Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Munch: Van Gogh Exhibition

fig.1 Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with Palette,
1926. Private collection

The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944, fig.1) and the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890, fig.2) never had a chance to meet during their lifetimes. But they embarked on their artistic careers at the same time and lived in Paris at the same time, avidly absorbing the new art scene. And both painters took up extremely similar themes. While their journeys as painters took similar paths, each produced very different paintings. The Munch: Van Gogh exhibit currently at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, examines the similarities and differences between the two, based on many years of joint research by the Van Gogh Museum and Oslo’s Munch Museum.

Van Gogh was born ten years before Munch, but their work as artists started at around the same time in the 1880s. Influenced by the naturalist painters in their home countries, they both took up traditional subject matters and were restrained in their use of color. But both soon felt unfulfilled with orthodox painting and set off to the art capital of Paris. Munch went in 1885, and Van Gogh in the following year of 1886.

fig.2 Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait as a Painter,
1887-1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
(Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Although living in Paris at the same time, the two did not meet. However, both admired Monet’s expression of light and color, were inspired by the portraits of Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec, experienced Pissarro’s pointillism and incorporated the perspectives of Caillebotte. Soaking up new ideas like a sponge, both artists began developing their own style.

A further trait that tied these two artists closely together was their pursuit of the essence of the existence of humanity and its significance. They steadfastly explored unanswerable fundamental and universal issues such as the constant cycle of life and death or the fear and pain that arises from the loss of love and hope. Strangely, both incurred self-inflicted wounds triggered by troubled relationships. Van Gogh took up these themes in Augustine Roulin (La Berceuse), Wheatfield under Thunderclouds and Garden of the Asylum. Munch examined them in The Starry Night, The Scream, The Sick Child and Madonna.

Thus it can be seen that despite mastering the same painting techniques and working on similar themes, the two artists produced widely contrasting works. This is apparent if we compare the representative pieces of each: Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Munch’s The Scream. Van Gogh depicted reality after repeated practice to perfect his technique while Munch captured reality without being bound by what he saw. That difference highlights the individuality of the two painters.

Munch: Van Gogh Until Jan. 17

Van Gogh Museum
Museumplein 6
1071 DJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 20 570 5200

Opening times:
Friday 25 December: 9 am to 5 pm
26 - 31 December 2015 9 am to 6 pm
1 January 2016: 11 am to 10 pm
2 - 17 January 2016 9 am to 6 pm, Fridays until 10 pm
All other days: 9 am to 5 pm and Fridays until 10 pm