Van Gogh Still Life Renamed After Chef Catches Mistake
Vincent van Gogh, “Red Cabbages and Garlic” (1887), oil on canvas, 19 3/4 inches x 25 1/3 inches (image courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

When Utrecht-based chef Ernst de Witte visited the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam last year, he noticed something wasn’t quite right on one of the wall labels. De Witte found that van Gogh’s still-life painting “Red Cabbages and Onions” (1887) was erroneously named; the “onions” represented, he observed, were actually heads of garlic.

Determined to set the record straight, de Witte sent a message to the museum with his theory. The institution “took it seriously from the start,” he told Hyperallergic, and asked for proof of his conviction. De Witte and his wife developed a PowerPoint presentation comparing the painting in question with another work of van Gogh’s, “Still life around a plate of onions” (1889), including an analysis of the painter’s handling of both vegetables. He also filmed a video comparing and contrasting different types of garlic and onions by shape and color and mapped out the subtle lines van Gogh painted to delineate the clove segments beneath the garlic skin. Aside from being a chef, de Witte is also a visual artist, enabling him to apply his expertise in both fields to make such an assessment.

The museum brought de Witte’s evidence to its research team, which eventually determined that he was correct a few months later. They even consulted an independent researcher who validated de Witte’s claim, prompting the institution to fix the mistake on both its wall text and online collections record. The painting is now called “Red Cabbages and Garlic” thanks to de Witte’s keen eye.

Inspired by both the painting and this experience, de Witte developed a red cabbage and garlic dish for his Utrecht-based restaurant, Feu, consisting of a poached red cabbage placed over a creme of puffed garlic and drizzled with a vinaigrette of lemon balm, tarragon, and van Gogh’s favorite liquor, absinthe.

“As soon as the vinaigrette comes in contact with the red cabbage components, the colors start to fade, just like the red/blue pigments in van Gogh’s paintings,” de Witte wrote to Hyperallergic. “Our guests are in love with it, especially combined with the story and the beer brewed with absinthe we pair it with.” The dish is on restaurant Feu’s menu through May, and diners who include “#vanGogh” on their online reservations can sample it on the house.

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