Vincent Van Gogh: Orphan Man in Sunday
Clothes with Eye Bandage.
Late December 1882.
Graphite and lithographic
crayon, 46.5 x 27.5 cm.
Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of Père Tanguy.
Winter 1887-88. Oil on canvas,
65 x 51 cm. Photograph: catalogue.
Vincent Van Gogh: Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul
Gauguin, mid-September 1888.
Oil on canvas, 59.6 x 48.3 cm
Face to Face - the Portraits The exhibition at the Philadelphia
Museum of Art
until January 14, 2001. Exhibition catalogue: Thames &
Hudson, hardcover, April 2000, 272 p.
Get it from Amazon.com,
Article added in December 2000
After Detroit and Boston, the Vincent van Gogh-exhibition Face to Face
makes the final stop of its tour at the Philadelphia Museum of
Art - until January 14, 2001. There are over 70 paintings and drawings from
American and international public and private collections to admire. Among
the most prominent lenders to the exhibition are the Van Gogh Museum in
Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterloo, The Netherlands.
In September 1888,
van Gogh wrote: "I want to paint men and women with that something of
the eternal which the halo used to symolize...Ah! portraiture, portraiture
with the thoughts, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must
come." Portraits were van Gogh's most revered subject. In 1890, just
months before his suicide, he wrote: "What fascinates me much, much
more than anything else in my métier is the portrait, the modern
portrait...I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations
to people in 100 years time."
Although scholars including Evert van
Uitert and Carol Zemel have discussed van Gogh as a portraitist,
surprisingly, Face to Face is the first comprehensive exhibition of
the artist's work in portraiture. Only a few projects have touched on the
subject directly: in 1960, Marlborough Fine Art Ldt. in London presented Van
Gogh Self Portraits, a focused exhibition of 18 paintings; in 1994,
the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and its affiliate, the H. W. Mesdag
Museum in The Hague, mounted an exhibition of portraits by van Gogh and
other artists from the two institutions, presented at the Seiji Togo
Memorial Ysuda Kasai Museum of Art in Japan; and in 1995, the Kunsthalle
Hamburg organized an exhibition devoted to the self-portraits painted by
van Gogh during his two-year residence in Paris.
The museums in Detroit, Boston and
Philadelphia each have two major portraits by van Gogh in their
collection. That was the starting paint of the present exhibition. The van
Gogh-project is just one piece in a series of recent exhibitions which
confirm the increased interest in portraiture: Degas, Portraits was
presented in Zurich and Tübingen in 1994-95; Picasso and Portraiture:
Representation and Transformation was organized for the Museum of
Modern Art in New York in 1996; Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an
Age was seen in Ottawa, Chicago and Forth Worth in 1997-98; Portraits
by Ingres: Image of an Epoch opened in London and traveled to
Washington, D.C., and New York in 1999; Rembrandt by Himself was
likewise seen in London and The Hague in 1999-2000; recently, exhibitions
on the portraits by Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals and John Singer Sargent
were variously seen in Antwerp, Haarlem, London, Boston and Washington,
D.C; and currently, Impressionist Portraits from American Collections
can be admired in Baltimore, Houston and Cleveland.
Born in 1853 in Groot-Zundert, the
Netherlands, the son of a Dutch Reformed pastor, Van Gogh made his first
foray into the art world in his youth as a clerk in art galleries in The
Hague, London and Paris. In 1877, he began theological studies in
Amsterdam. Two years later, he moved to the Borinage coal-mining region of
Belgium to serve as an evangelist for struggling miners. It was not until
1880 that van Gogh decided to abandon his religious endeavors and devote
himself entirely to painting and drawing. He had only one decade of his
life left to work as an artist. Until 1886, he stayed in his native
Netherlands. Then, he moved to Paris where he met the Impressionist
painters, including Monet, Degas and Renoir, as well as the
post-impressionist Gauguin. By 1888, the hectic Parisian life took its
toll on van Gogh both mentally and physically and prompted his relocation
to Arles in the South of France. There, he suffered one of his most
violent breakdowns and eventually committed himself to an asylum at St.-Rémy
in 1889, where he continued to work. He later moved to Auvers, a town near
Paris. He suffered further psychological collapses, however, and died of a
self-inflicted gunshot wound in July 1890, at the age of only 37.
The exhibition showcases many paintings and
drawings by van Gogh which have never been on view in the United States
before. Among the highlights are five bold self-portraits, starting with
the earliest paintings done shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1886.
The exhibition also includes early character studies of anonymous peasants
and aged pensioners with whom the artist clearly empathized, done while
living in The Hague in 1882-83. There are powerful examinations of friends
and colleagues, including the art-dealer Alex Reid as well as of Clasina
Hoornik (Sien) with whom van Gogh had a troubled relationship. Another
highlight is a group of 16 portraits of the Roulin family who befriended
van Gogh in the French town of Arles. Among them are six versions of The
Postman Joseph Roulin who showed great and sustained kindness to van
Gogh during his time in Arles in 1888. Roulin, his wife Augustine and
their three children, Camille, Armand and the baby Marcelle, were the
artist's most frequent and loyal models during this period.
In the catalogue, George S. Keyes explores
van Gogh's lifelong interest in Dutch art and the formative influence of
Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Frans Hals on van Gogh. Lauren Soth
examines fantasy and reality in the drawings made by van Gogh during his
early years in The Hague. George T. M. Shackelford concentrates on van
Gogh's work in Paris which first showed the influence of his French
contemporaries, Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec, as well as the
Impressionists. Roland Dorn revisits van Gogh's very productive period in
Arles and its symbolic means and decorative ends. Judy Sund examines van
Gogh's portraits made in Saint Rémy and Auvers, where he sought treatment
following a breakdown, among them his haunting self-portraits and a
depiction of Dr. Gachet, the artist's last doctor. Joseph J. Rishel
concentrates on the modern legacy of van Gogh's portraits, on his
influence on later artists, including Matisse, Picasso, Munch, Kokoschka
and Bacon. A four-part chronology by Katherine Sachs accompanies the
essays. (Get the catalogue with its 228 color illustrations and half a
dozen essays from Amazon.com,
For more reviews, e.g. on the van Gogh
exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland: Art.
For the website of the Philadelphia Museum and other art related links: Links.