Why is Shell involved in this project? It’s a common question. After all, isn’t Shell all about petrol, diesel, jet fuel, filling stations and occasional bad publicity? What does that have to do with Van Gogh?
In fact, the answer is simple.
Shell holds a conspicuous place in the heart of society – right around the corner, so to speak, even if these days most filling stations are found along the highways. Shell used to focus on the kind of work we’re all familiar with. For instance, when it came to cars, Shell provided the means for people to drive wherever and whenever they wished, and that was where its job ended.
But times have changed fast. Since the 1960s, our lives have been moving faster, carrying us along in a swift current of changes: individualism, personal freedom, consumerism, concerns about our environment and the quality of the soil, air and water, and the democratising influence of media and the Internet.
In the Netherlands, Shell has a long-standing relationship with the Ministry of Education (with well-known Shell films in the 1950s, lesson plans for schools, and the Education Museum, which in 1985 changed its name to Museon). Over the years, it has adapted to changing times and come to engage with society in a much wider context, recognising the importance of economic issues, employment, the energy sector and civil-society actors such as the environmental movement, as well as of art and culture.
In recent decades, Shell has established clearly worded policies on a variety of social issues, as a step towards determining how it can contribute effectively. Criteria such as education, knowledge transfer, enterprise promotion and sustainability are now central to its corporate image, as it adopts a broader view of society.
That brings us back to Van Gogh. It’s becoming ever clearer that the art in our museums not only has to be protected from damaging light (through windows with ultraviolet-filtering glass) and contaminated air (through climate control and air purification), but also requires conservation and restoration. The standards for conservation are steadily increasing, and sustainability is a must. More and more museum visitors want to find out how well-known artists lived and worked and to learn how and why their styles changed over time. These are questions for art historians.
And that brings us back to the Shell-Van Gogh connection.
Shell can contribute to this project through:
- knowledge transfer (scientific and technological expertise)
- sustainability promotion (technical support for restoration work)
- assistance with art-historical research (better techniques for dating works of art).
So as you can see, there are plenty of good reasons for a relationship between Shell and Van Gogh.