My family were artists, so I grew up among artists and art books and galleries, as we could afford them during the last years of the Depression and the years of World War II. When I began to develop my own tastes in art, they tended toward Abstracts, later to Impressionists, as went the tastes of my contemporaries at the time. I did not care for van Gogh. I'm not sure why, perhaps too stodgy, even with the fanciful ones like Starry Night.
Then First Husband and I started on our bicycle adventure in Europe (a whole other story) and found ourselves in a gallery of van Gogh's paintings in Amsterdam, just because we thought we ought to pay attention to the works of art offered in the great museums of Europe.
And Oh My God, van Gogh paintings in person were a whole different thing from the pale representations on paper in the art books. The paint danced and sparkled and and thrust itself into the room, lighting it up with glorious color. Though I may not remember each of the paintings we saw, I'll always remember that feeling of breathless joy.
In my subsequent travels in France, I've been to several places where van Gogh lived and worked and ultimately died. He came to Arles in 1888, seeking the colors of the Provençal landscape. While his studio, intended to build an artistic community, failed, his work was at its best, and he produced major works within the space of fifteen months. He continued with it in the year he spent in St. Rémy, then did a final flurry of work in Auvers-sur-Oise just before he died at 37.
On earlier visits to Arles, I was disappointed that there was none of his original work on exhibit. It was all tied up in others' hands. I was really excited when I heard that a museum in Arles would be built to house his works, to be loaned by the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Read below about the opening of the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles in 2014. Last week, with the leaders of the tour, Lisa and Beth, I finally got there.
Photos are allowed without flash, and I took them of almost every painting. The museum provides a fascinating display mode, mounting side by side paintings of similar subjects painted in van Gogh's earlier, darker style, and then in the brightness that he sought in the South. As an example of this practice, read about Self-portraits in the paragraph below.
Self-Portrait with Pipe in 1886:
Perhaps more familiar to us is Self-portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887), turning toward modernity.
Here, Beth studies a portrait of a woman, Old Woman in Arles (1888), with van Gogh asserting his preference for yellows and blues.
I didn't take down the names or dates of the next two paintings, but they demonstrate the transition in color and style from old to new and both portray a man at a table.
This man, in blue and yellow tones again, is gathering wheat.
In Still Lifes, we also see the evolution, here, following the realist tradition in Still Life with Apples and Pumpkins (1885), and going to simplicity and earthiness in Still Life with Potatoes (1889).
Beth is enamored of the multiplicity and delicacy of colors in the potatoes in this:
And the flowers . . .
Solo, with no pairing, except, perhaps, the absinthe with the water. Notice the people outside the window.
Living in the Netherlands, van Gogh's landscapes reflected schools of artists that conveyed the melancholy atmosphere of the rural regions in which he worked. In Provence, he intensifies all his colors, and also is inspired by Japanese wood-block prints.
I wonder about the ladies with parasols, strolling among the tangled grape vines.
When I first walked by this brooding grey picture, I thought I was looking at the aftermath of a battlefield. I turned back, for a quick look at the small description, and caught that it might be abandoned farm equipment. I won't guarantee I saw that right, but looking closer gives plausibility to that notion. Perhaps it's a wintry day on the farmland.
I'm not sure the resolution of this brief bio of van Gogh is of a high enough resolution to read, but here it is.
"VAN GOGH IN PROVENCE: MODERNIZING TRADITION"
on display at
the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles between May 14 and Sept 11, 2016