08 April 2010

go to van gogh

I thought we were the only Londoners who had yet to see The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters at the Royal Academy. But judging by the line outside and the hustle-and-bustle inside, we weren't alone. Thank goodness for G's Friends card!

There were some old favorites, including a painting owned by my former employer and another I remembered from school trips into the city,

Vincent Van Gogh, Roses, 1890, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1991.67.1

as well as paintings entirely new to me in the most brilliant colors:

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheat Fields (The Plain of Auvers) July 1890, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, 68.18

But what made the exhibition truly extraordinary were the letters and sketches displayed alongside the paintings. The RA exhibition is actually a small part of a larger show organized to celebrate the new edition of Van Gogh's letters published by the Van Gogh Museum last year:

This is the first time I've ever coveted an artist's complete correspondence. But, as revealed by the exhibition, Van Gogh was as much a genius in language as in paint. He cared deeply about writing and chose and used his words to great effect:

'There are so many people, especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don't you think, it's as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint a thing.' (letter to Emile Bernard, 1888)

I found myself lingering over each and every letter, reading the English translation, scrutinizing the sketches in the margins...

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter 783 from Vincent Van Gogh to Theo Van Gogh: Cypresses, 25 June 1889, Van Gogh Museum

then comparing the words and sketches to the painting described:

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, June 1889, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 49.30

Simply brilliant and most definitely worth a go! But alas my silly puns only work when his name is pronounced in the American way. Sigh.


  1. Unfortunately I think I might miss this one but we did get to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam a couple of years ago and I bought a book of his letters there.

  2. Oh, I'd love to get to this but I don't think I shall now. And I've just realised I missed the Van Gogh docudrama that was on over Easter. Bother.

  3. I went to see the exhibition a while ago and it was totally mad then. It was so packed I didn't get to see his letters, but the paintings were wonderful.

  4. What an excellent write up! So glad you got the exhibition in the end and enjoyed it so much.

  5. How lucky you are to have such wonderful exhibits to visit at frequent intervals!

  6. I would love to see those letters. I think most of us only ever hear about van Gogh the scarily mentally ill guy, and obviously he was so much more. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Oh, I'm so jealous you got to see that! But I do have to confess that I've been to the Van Gogh Museum so I can't complain. You should go see the Grace Kelly fashion show at the V&A!