After Vincent van Gogh died, his work got a new lease on life. During his lifetime, Vincent had sent paintings and drawings to his brother Theo in the hope that Theo would be able to sell them. The works would then serve to pay Theo back for all the help he had given Vincent in providing him with a monthly allowance and sending him materials. But during his lifetime, Vincent sold only one painting.
By the time Vincent died, Theo had amassed an enormous collection. He probably owned about 365 of his brother’s works. Theo – who had the necessary experience, being an art dealer – took responsibility for carefully looking after the collection and doing everything he could to establish his brother's name. But his early death, a mere six months after Vincent’s, put an end to that. From then on, it was Theo's widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, who kept the collection together. And she did so with great energy. She endeavoured to make sure works stayed together or were sold at good prices by reputable dealers in the Netherlands, France and Germany.
In the Netherlands, Hendricus Petrus “H.P.” Bremmer (1871–1956) greatly admired Van Gogh's work. He was an art teacher whose main interest lay less in artworks as such and more in the emotions they evoked in viewers. It is no surprise that Bremmer was a big fan of Vincent's expressive, penetrating work. He described it as “the reflection of a heroic life that had passed through suffering to arrive at a deeper spirituality.” He encouraged his pupils to buy Vincent's work. Among them was the wealthy Helene Kröller-Müller (1869–1939). Vincent's intense paintings moved her deeply; she recognised his searching nature and spirituality and saw him as a champion of a new kind of art. In 1908, she bought her first piece of his, Edge of a Wood, a relatively conservative painting from Vincent’s Dutch period. The same year, she also bought a much more expressive work painted in Paris, Four Sunflowers Gone to Seed. After these initial purchases, she steadily continued to build her collection. In 1912, she bought 32 works of Vincent’s at auction and from dealers in Paris, Berlin, The Hague and Amsterdam, spending a total of 209,537 guilders. In doing so, she greatly boosted the popularity of Vincent's work.
Helene built a highly representative collection, which includes countless masterpieces, such as Terrace of a Café at Night (Place du Forum), La Berceuse (Portrait of Madame Roulin), and a version of The Potato Eaters. Containing 89 paintings and more than 180 drawings, it is the second largest collection of Van Goghs in the world. The works can be seen in the museum Helene and her husband established in 1938 in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, known today as the Kröller-Müller Museum.