Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890).
This was my second attempt to see this very popular and super busy exhibition. The EY exhibition focuses on the young Van Gogh’s time spent in Britain between 1873 and 1876 and the impact this time had on him culturally and artistically. I did not know that Van Gogh had tried out various careers before becoming an artist in 1880, and sadly died only 10 years later. The exhibition is essentially in two parts, with the first focusing on his experiences in London, and the second on his impact on British artists up to the 1950s.
Van Gogh Shoes, 1886, oil on canvas
I discovered that Van Gogh not only knew four languages but he had a love of English literature, and wrote to his brother Theo, “reading books is like looking at paintings…one must find beautiful that which is beautiful” and he loved, among others, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Working in London (which at the time was the largest industrialised city in the world) is where he not only explored the city and its people but he also worked at an illustrators and printers and learnt how to make prints. These prints and reproductions at the time were known as ‘black and whites’ and Van Gogh personally had 2000 prints. The exhibition notes that the self taught artist studied the print process where he learnt techniques, composition and continued to develop his own individual style of drawing and painting.
Vincent Van Gogh, Old man with umbrella and watch, 1882, Graphite on paper
According to the exhibition plaque, Van Gogh aimed to draw the different “types one comes across on the street”. I love the above drawing but due to the exhibition being so crowded I had to take the picture off to the side, but the photograph still manages to show all the wonderful marks he made. Van Gogh created not only a solid depiction of an elderly formal man but the visible lines, marks and heaviness still somehow produces a drawing that looks sensitive. Moving along the exhibition this sensitivity is even more evident with the drawing below on the left and eight years later a painting on the right of the same figure.
At Eternity’s Gate, Lithograph on paper, 1882 and ‘Sorrowing old man’, oil on canvas, 1890
Van Gogh showed beautiful marks in monochrome and in oil paint the choice of colours highlight the emotion of the piece. The affecting images above are a glimpse into the mind of the artist and reveal great pain but also so much beauty.
Five years before his death Van Gogh joined his art dealer brother, Theo in Paris and networked with other artists before moving on to Arles in the south of France where he joined a community of artists. However, mental illness haunted him and he chose to admit himself to hospital but he still continued to paint.
There were many other artists works at the exhibition highlighting the influence he had on them but for me there was one brilliant surprise and they were the works by one of my favorite artists, Francis Bacon. The painting below, Study of a portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957, oil on canvas, is a large painting and somehow captures Van Gogh’s essence because to me more than any other work the colours, strokes of paint and silhouette of the great artist is very powerful and evocative of Van Gogh’s work and the man himself.
Study of a portrait of Van Gogh IV, 1957, oil on canvas
The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain 27 March – 11 August 2019