The iconic imagery produced by Vincent van Gogh is a fundamental part of art history and popular culture, and some of his works were reproduced so many times meaning that his practice became a commonplace when it comes to modern painting. Throughout the years, much was written about his pioneering role in the movement sprawl, certain aspects of his oeuvre, as well as about his intriguing personality.
The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is the main institution in charge of the preservation of the great painter's heritage, and very often it organizes exhibitions together with other museums, in order to present van Gogh’s art around the globe. Such is the case with the upcoming retrospective taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, under the title Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art.
The exhibition will represent Vincent van Gogh’s life in chronological order, starting from his early sketches to his final paintings; more than fifty works will be on display spanning from portraits over landscapes to still lifes.
To be more precise, the audience will have a unique chance to dive in the life of van Gogh, from his early years as an artist in the Dutch village of Nuenen, his renewed inspiration caused by the atmosphere found in the Parisian art circle, his further development as an artist in Arles, and the fascination with nature expressed through the paintings made at the end of his life in Auvers and Saint-Rémy.
It is important to mention that the works will be accompanied by van Gogh’s letters which will contribute to a better understanding of his the sights and the situations that motivated him, the artistic struggle, as well as the extent of internal suffering and depression.
Alongside the loans from the Van Gogh museum, a large portion of the works will be on a loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum, other institutions, as well as from private collections. The curator of the exhibition and chair, Department of Conservation, and Audrey Jones Beck Curator, Department of European Art, MFAH, David Bomford expressed his excitement with the exhibition:
The popular story of van Gogh has tended to focus on his last few years and his death, but there is a rich and complex narrative that starts much earlier, one that is defined by van Gogh’s tremendous drive to become an artist.
Vincent van Gogh's narrative develops throughout four segments. The first one is focused on his early years as an artist. Namely, he started actively producing art at the age of twenty-seven, after attempting to pursue different professions. Although very much self-taught the artist was supported by his brother Theo; his early works are rather realistic with emphases on the physical and psychological conditions of his subjects. Van Gogh was very much influenced by Jean-François Millet and devotedly explored the rural life, realistically representing the hardship of peasants. The painting Potato Eaters (which will be on display) from 1885 perfectly encapsulates the artist's initial interests.
The exhibition continues with the works made after van Gogh arrived in Antwerp in order to study at the art academy. During that period, the artist shifted from the theme of rural farm life to portraiture. However, practically in no time, he went to Paris where he lived with Theo. The city inspired him immensely especially the artists Emile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whom he befriended with, as well as the discovery of Japanese woodcuts (which he started collecting).
The following segment is focused on the domination of light and color (typical for southern France) after the return to the countryside. After leaving Paris, van Gogh found himself in Arles, where he developed his signature style characterized by rhythmic brushstrokes and thick layers of paint in brighter colors. The spectacular landscapes were made then, especially famous the fields of wheat. But months of personal crisis followed. However, the artist suffered greatly so decided to admit himself to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy.
The last segment will focus on van Gogh’s last years; the artworks from that period reflect the ongoing struggle of the artist to pass through the omnipresent feeling of remorse. Alongside few paintings of the gardens of the asylum, and of the few possessions he had in his room, on display will be one of his iconic masterpieces such as Irises and Starry Night.
In 1890, van Gogh left Saint-Rémy for Auvers, in order to find help from the doctor Paul Gachet, advice suggested by painter Camille Pissarro. During that time, the artist painted landscapes such as Ears of Wheat, which is one of the latest of his works in the MFAH exhibition. That same year he committed suicide.
After all, stated above, it seems that the upcoming retrospective will thoroughly analyze van Gogh’s practice, and will provide a refreshed portrait of one of the most important artists in the art history.
Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from 10 March until 27 June 2019.
Editors’ Tip: Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art
Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art surveys the artist’s creative evolution across his short but influential career. The narrative begins with Van Gogh’s drawings, which were the foundation of his early practice, and describes how he transitioned into painting by consulting instructional handbooks and copying images. Written by a team of international experts, the book follows his moves from the landscapes and peasant life of his native Holland to Antwerp, Paris, Provence, and finally the countryside north of Paris. In the brilliant light of southern France, he began painting portraits and landscapes while refining his characteristic style of rhythmic brushstrokes and expressive impasto in vivid colors.
Featured images: Vincent van Gogh - The Langlois Bridge at Arles, May 1888. Oil on canvas, Wallraf-Richartz Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne; Vincent van Gogh - Impasse des deux frères, 1887, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Brooklyn, New York, United States of America
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