Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Exhibition: Van Gogh & Co.

Fig.1 Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait,
April - June 1887, oil on cardboard,
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

The Kröller-Müller museum in Vincent van Gogh's native country of the Netherlands is currently showing the exhibition Van Gogh & Co., featuring around fifty paintings by Van Gogh from their collection. The exhibition also has paintings by Corot, Millet, and other pioneers, contemporaries, and artists who were influenced by Van Gogh, totaling one hundred and eight paintings.

From a young age, Van Gogh (fig. 1) stood in awe of many painters. He worked at the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague, where he dealt with many artworks, could visit various museums, and purchase the works and art books that he took an interest in. When Van Gogh decided to pursue a career as a painter, he received education by Anton Mauve, a painter from the The Hague school; when he went to Paris the exchanges he had with young painters such as Gauguin and Bernard helped him polish his skills.

Van Gogh was captivated with the peasants that Millet painted, and made copies of works such as The Sower when he first began working as a painter. His work The Potato Eaters, which depicts peasants sharing a meal after their work, is representative of his early paintings. He created it combining the studies that he had made of peasants' faces. His still-lifes, too, were rooted in peasant life, showing vegetables like potatoes and onions, or worn-out worker's boots. In the still-life paintings, no figure of a peasant is ever directly featured, but we could say nonetheless that these are portraits of them, only from a different angle.

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with a Plate of Onions,
1889, oil on canvas, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Within these same still-lifes, we can also perceive a frank reflection of Van Gogh's feelings, which makes them into a kind of self-portrait. As soon as he was released from the psychiatric hospital, the year after he cut off his ear, Van Gogh painted Still Life with a Plate of Onions (1889) (fig. 2). In it we see a household medical manual, which suggests he might have been worried about his physical condition after his release from hospital. We see the heavy smoker Van Gogh's pipe and tobacco, and the bottle of alcohol and the coffee, both of which he enjoyed daily. In the foreground is a letter, with a postmark dating from the end of 1888, on it the address of his brother Theo, the sender. Unfortunately, the letter itself has been lost. It is generally considered that Van Gogh's breakdown, leading to him cutting off his ear on the 23rd of December, 1888, was because his relationship with Gauguin broke down. However, some scholars argue that this lost letter, which informed him that his younger brother Theo was getting engaged, must also have been a trigger. Van Gogh must have felt upset that Theo, on whom Vincent was dependent both psychologically and financially, was to marry. He could no longer expect to rely on him as before. But in this painting, made soon after he left the hospital, we can sense the vitality springing from the newly sprouting onions. When he received that letter Van Gogh may have despaired of his life, but this painting communicates his recovery from that, and a positive attempt to take charge of his new life.

The exhibition Van Gogh & Co. will be on through September 27 (the museum is closed on Mondays).

Kröller-Müller Museum
Houtkampweg 6
6731 AW Otterlo
The Netherlands
Opening Hours:
Tuesday through Sunday, Holidays* 10:00—17:00(Sculpture Garden open until 16:30)
*Easter, Pentecost, April 27, May 5, December 23
Museum is closed on Mondays, January 1