Art Van Elslander founded Art Van in 1959, opening his first store in East Detroit. Van Elslander's furniture first business was a 4,000 square-foot space on Gratiot Avenue and 10 Mile Road. He expanded to three stores in that same year, and a fourth store opened in 1960. His first employee was not hired until this time. Art Vans Furniture (later changed to Art Van Furniture) opened with mostly modern and Danish-style furniture.
In 1892 Émile Bernard organised a small solo show of Van Gogh's paintings in Paris, and Julien Tanguy exhibited his Van Gogh paintings with several consigned from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In April 1894 the Durand-Rue Gallery in Paris agreed to take 10 paintings on consignment from Van Gogh's estate. In 1896, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited John Peter Russell on Belle Île off Brittany. Russell had been a close friend of Van Gogh; he introduced Matisse to the Dutchman's work, and gave him a Van Gogh drawing. Influenced by Van Gogh, Matisse abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright colours.