Arranging the biggest ever exhibition of Vincent van Gogh's paintings is taking on the complexity of a military operation. The plans include special precautions for transporting paintings from abroad, new security systems and huge sums of insurance.
The exhibition next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the tormented Dutch genius who committed suicide in France in 1890 will fill two museums and bring together, perhaps for the last time, some of Van Gogh's most famous paintings.Apart from the exhibition, operas, films and theater productions will be staged to celebrate the painter, who blossomed from youthful artistic somberness into an unrivalled master of color and light.
The Dutch are budgeting $12.5 million for the anniversary celebrations and plan to bring in some 40 oil paintings and 120 sketches from abroad to supplement their own vast collections.
Each painting from abroad will be wrapped in temperature-controlled packaging and each will be accompanied by an expert who must give written reports on the condition of the work before and after it travels.
New electronic security systems have been put into the museums and more guards hired. Three Van Gogh's were stolen from the Kroeller-Mueller Museum in the Netherlands in December 1988.
The works from abroad, coming from as far afield as Moscow's Pushkin Museum and New York's Museum of Modern Art, have been insured for a total of $3 billion -- believed to be the highest ever coverage to be taken out for an art exhibition.
Although he sold only one painting in his lifetime, Van Gogh's works today are among the most valuable in the world, fetching many millions of dollars at auction.
The Netherlands already houses the world's two largest collection of his works -- at Amsterdam's Vincent Van Gogh Museum and at the smaller Kroeller-Mueller Museum in the eastern Hoge Veluwe National Park.
"The idea of the exhibit is to show works Van Gogh himself considered his best," said Frits Becht, managing director of the Van Gogh 1990 Foundation, which has been busy for two years organizing events.
The Van Gogh Museum will be filled with some 120 oil paintings while the Kroeller-Mueller Museum will house 250 drawings in a joint exhibition from March 30 -- Van Gogh's birthday -- to July 29, the anniversary of his death.
"It is not only the largest exhibit ever of his work, but it is probably the last time these works will be brought together, because it is complicated to bring them together and traveling is not good for paintings," said Becht.
The exhibit will include such famous works as "The Weaver," "The Potato Eaters," "The Sower," "Sunflowers," "The Night Cafe" and "The Yellow House."
No more than 1,000 people will be allowed into each museum at a time to prevent too much humidity -- from humans and their clothing --from harming the paintings.
Even so, Becht expects some 1.4 million people, many of them from abroad, will see the exhibition.
The high insurance is because Van Gogh's works have sold for record prices in recent years. His "Irises" fetched $53.9 million in November 1987, the highest price ever paid for a work of art.
The centenary will also offer a chance to explore the artist through dramatic arts.
Two operas -- one by Finnish composer Einojuhani Routavaara and another by Dutchman Jan van Vlijmen -- will focus on the painter, whose private life seems to have captured unparalleled public interest.
His initial desire to be a minister, his attempt to rescue a prostitute from destitution, his close relationship with his brother Theo, who supported him financially most of his life, his slashing his ear in a fit of pique at fellow artist Paul Gauguin and his suicide at the age of 37 lend themselves to drama.
"The interest in Van Gogh is incredibly high compared to that of other very good artists. It's hard to say why. Somehow he is seen as romantic," Becht said.
"People think he was very poor. But the money he got from his brother was more than what a school teacher earned at the time. He was not famous in his life, but then neither were many of his contemporaries we admire today," Becht said.
Still the fascination with an artist, who received little formal training and produced all his works in eight years, remains. Some 70 films on Van Gogh have been produced since his death and about half a dozen new productions -- including a television series by American director Robert Altman -- are due to be released next year.
The Netherlands plans to premiere some of the new productions as part of a series of about 20 films on Van Gogh.