Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Real Van Gogh

Still Life with a Plate of Onions
(and a letter)
Vincent Van Gogh (January 1889 - letter 732)
oil on canvas, 49.6 x 64.4 cm

The Real Van Gogh - the Artist his Letters will open on Saturday at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

The exhibition displays some 65 paintings, 30 drawings and 35 letters. Together these express the principal themes of his longstanding correspondence with his brother Theo. Other artists have written letters but no other artist has written quite so much about the process of creating art - on a contemporaneous basis.

Van Gogh's letters are rarely exhibited because of their fragility - which makes this a very rare exhibition. These are also very powerful documents which help to create a real sense of connection with Van Gogh.

Most importantly this exhibition tackles some of the myths about Van Gogh and reveals him as being a very different artist from the one which is decribed by 'popular' publications and films.

This exhibition clearly conveys how Van Gogh lived his life on paper - he drew, he painted, he read and he wrote. His was a very solitary existence - he was apparently so intense and focused on what he was interested in that he was very difficult to live with.

He comes across as a very intelligent and well read man in this exhibition. Also, although his excution of a painting may have been fast at times, the letters and drawings clearly demonstate that he is somebody who studied hard, practiced in a very deliberate way to develop his skills, and created plans for his compositions and colour schemes only after he had thought about this at some detail.

Letter 902 - the very last letter from Vincent to Theo Van Gogh
Drawing of Wheatfields after the Rain (the Plain of Auvers)

In his very last letter to Theo dated Wednesday 23rd July 1890, four days before he shot himself in the chest - Van Gogh sent sketches of two no. 30 canvases depicting immense streches of wheat after the rain.......the unfinished letter to Theo, a draft of the one that was actually sent was found on Vincent's person after he shot himself in the fields on 27 July 1890 (and is in the exhibition)
From The Exhibition Catalogue: The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters

If you'd like to read the letters you can now do so now by visiting the new Van Gogh Museum website dedicated to them - Vincent Van Gogh - The Letters. This gives you access to all 902 letters.

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