Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters -
Exhibition at the Royal Academy,
9th March 2010
am sure that many of us went on this trip knowing something about this subject:
Vincent Van Gogh has been studied and written about by many; his life portrayed
in plays, novels and films. As children we were intrigued by the ear incident
and all the myths that surrounded that act.
The kind coach driver set
us down outside the R.A. where we, the privileged ticket holders, could walk
past the patient queues of Van Gogh devotees.
This exhibition was to be
different because not only were we to see a selection of his works created
through his life but also a series of letters written by Van Gogh to his
brother Theo and fellow artists.
The rooms exhibiting Van Gogh's
paintings and letters were divided into themes. We began the visit with his
early works of the Dutch countryside. These were executed in his twenties when
he had decided to make art his life. His colours are muted and earthy as can be
seen in a colour sketch in a letter to Theo, which indicates that he is using
the Dutch landscapes to practise his perspective confirming that this artist was
mainly self taught.
The Peasant in Action room displays his studies of
land workers, these hardworking people being his inspiration as he could not
afford models. As an example, a painting of a woman digging captures the effort
and strains in her body, bent double to lift the clods of earth.
move from the dark studies of the peasants to the theme of colour. We learn
through Theo's letters that he urges Van Gogh to lighten and brighten his
Van Gogh was aware of the Impressionists loose brushwork and their use of
complementary colours to enhance the effect of light and we see his experiments
in these techniques. In this room we see fruit, flowers, and gardens vibrant
with colour. Like many artists at that time, Van Gogh was influenced by
Japanese prints thus we see the bold contours, flat tones and decorative
patterns seen in his gardens and fruit trees in blossom.
Many of the
party enjoyed the portrait room, particularly the paintings of Joseph Roulin,
the postman, and his wife. In a letter to Bernard, Van Gogh said: "Colour
can express emotion and does not have to be true to life". We know Van Gogh
was not a fan of photography, the new medium when he said: "I paint what I
feel and not what I see."A moving touch for many of us was the inclusion of
his chair paintings in the portrait section. The portrayal of his simple rustic
chair on which rests his pipe and tobacco is hung next to a painting of the
chair of the recently departed Gauguin, a more stylish, comfortable seat on
which two contemporary novels and a candle are placed. Van Gogh describes the
two pictures to Theo as portraits: Van Gogh's chair being less sophisticated
than that of the worldly, restless Gauguin.
In the next room we see
more of his work from Arles, the intense colour and expressive brushstrokes are
vibrant and thrilling. 'A view of Arles with Irises in the foreground' was
popular with viewers. Whilst standing in front of the many studies of
cornfields, I heard one lady pronounce that Van Gogh's paintings would give her
warmth in winter!
His Cycles of Nature could surely only be painted by
an artist brought up in rural areas. The Sower, influenced by his admiration for
Millet, depicts a tree trunk cutting across the picture as it might in a
Japanese composition; the large brilliant sun behind the Sower's head resembles
a halo. Van Gogh's obsession with religion in his early life has been replaced
by an intense love for nature which can be seen in so much of his work.
the last two rooms we see brush strokes which are urgent, swirling and sometimes
disturbing and many of us felt the urgency came from his need to emphasise the
importance and power of Nature and, of course, his own tormented interludes. At
least one member of our group was moved to tears for the man who strived to do
his best but died in despair.
Van Gogh's letters were clearly displayed
and, in spite of the crowds, easy to access. Not so much diaries as pictures of
his needs, evolving style, philosophies and aspirations, punctuated by requests
for money or more materials.
Many members of our group expressed their
admiration for a troubled man who had little formal training and yet could
produce a vast number of passionate powerful works. It is sad that his acclaim
came posthumously; his paintings fetching world record sums but it is fortunate
that we could enjoy them on this trip thanks to the DFAS Cranleigh organizers.
CDFAS group assembled outside the Royal Academy