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You think you know van Gogh?

January 15, 2010

Prepare to think again when you visit the Royal Academy’s terrific new show of letters and pictures.

Detail from Self-Portrait 1889, by Vincent Van Gogh

Detail from Self-Portrait 1889, by Vincent Van Gogh Photo: GETTY

When Vincent van Gogh had his last major showing in this country – at the Hayward Gallery in 1968 – he was merely one of the greatest artists the world had ever known. His influence on 20th-century art was widely understood, his tragic story universally known. The film Lust for Life, with its eye-rolling, paint-chomping performance from Kirk Douglas, had been consigned to history, while having had a decisive effect on the way we view the artist. Yet van Gogh was just one huge artistic figure among many.

Since then, he has become something no other artist has ever quite been, “the world’s favourite artist”. Van Gogh, even more than the Impressionists, is seen as the artist who blew open the studio door, blasting away centuries of fusty academic painting, to let in the light of real experience.

Vincent’s eye-popping colour combinations – so bizarre to his contemporaries – have come to be seen as more expressive of reality than reality itself. Vincent ran through blazing Provençal cornfields shouting about the power of the sun (or so we tend to think) and we feel he was doing it on our behalf. He’s become the artist par excellence of the Mediterranean – never mind that he was Dutch and that many of his paintings are of flat, dark, rain-drenched Netherlandish fields. Such is the power of the package – life-enhancing pictures plus tragic history – that his paintings are no longer simply works of art but relics of one of the great transcendent human stories.

Read more at: You think you know van Gogh?

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 2:38 am

    “Starry Night over the Rhone” is my favorite painting of Van Gogh.

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