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Van Gogh Face to Face - The Portraits. Exhibition catalogue: Thames & Hudson, hardcover, April 2000, 272 p. Get it from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de.



Vincent Van Gogh: Orphan Man in Sunday Clothes with Eye Bandage. Late December 1882. Graphite and lithographic crayon, 46.5 x 27.5 cm. Photograph: catalogue.
 

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. Photograph: catalogue.



Van Gogh : 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, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de.
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, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr or Amazon.de. More books about Vincent van Gogh from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

For more reviews, e.g. on the van Gogh exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland: Art.