= The Crawford Arts Review: Perhaps one of the most solitary and passionate of men, the work of Vincent van Gogh returns to London

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Perhaps one of the most solitary and passionate of men, the work of Vincent van Gogh returns to London

Part I: Van Gogh the natural colourist

If the good curators of Tate Britain had chosen one artist to show what these islands owe to European art and sensibility, they could scarcely have done better than to choose Vincent van Gogh.

Van Gogh and Britain records the three years Van Gogh spent in the UK, arriving in 1873 as a 20-year old. Not always happy in his Brixton lodgings, but always drawing, studying, experimenting; and always observing. Thanks to generous loans, around 50 of his works are exhibited hereWhat an all-rounder he was. The artist's passion to record what he sees extends not just to landscapes, cornfields and sunflowers, but to portraits (as well as, of course, the self-portraits), still lifes, life drawing, and all manner of examples of the teeming life and labour of the mid-19th century. 
Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), 
Path in the Woods, MayJul 1887,
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Artists still reference his mastery of light and shade when they illuminate their work. Shown here is Van Gogh's Path in the Woods. Different media, but not dissimilar to David Hockney's iPad/iPhone paintingsVan Gogh's celebrated Sunflowers are another example  yet none rival the originals. 

Van Gogh saw and recorded with unflinching honesty the poverty and destitution of his age, in England as well as in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. He applied the same acute analytical gaze when he painted nature. His painting Trunk of an Old Yew Tree (not shown) rewards the closest study, a lesson in the infinitely subtle use of colour and one of the most tender portraits of a tree you will ever see.

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), 
Paul Ferdinand Gachet, Jun 1890
Wellcome Collection, London
The portraits too lift Van Gogh well beyond the ordinary. The artist's exquisite etching of his doctor, Paul Ferdinand Gachet (1890), is shown here.

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890),
Self-Portrait Saint-R
émy, Autmn

1889, National Gallery of Art,
Van Gogh's 1889 self-portrait was painted in the Saint-Paul hospital Saint-Rémy and lent by Washington's National Gallery of Art. It shows the artist bird-beaked and pale with illness and concentration, squinting his eye like some bird of prey to capture his image.

Van Gogh, who spoke English, came here to learn more about England as well as to work. He read voraciously of Charles Dickens, and George Eliot  as well as expressing admiration for the work of John Everett Millais and John Constable. He took endless walks to impress upon his memory something of Englishness and the English. And in turn he has influenced just about every artist you can think of.

I did find the show to be something of a mishmash at times, finding myself muttering under my breath: "but I came to see Van Gogh". The curatorial idea is to have the works of Van Gogh sharing the walls with his British contemporaries ostensibly to show how many British painters were influenced by the work of the visiting Dutchman. Well, it certainly makes the central point  how much Van Gogh soared above all of them  all the stronger. Indeed, if any show cautions 'beware the academy', it's this one.

Part II: the engineer in paint

The EY Exhibition
Van Gogh and Britain
Wednesday 25 March
to Sunday 11 August

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1
Monday to Sunday 10.00–18.00
Check for late openings

No comments:

Post a comment