Vincent Van Gogh, if history is getting it right, sold no art works during his lifetime. Now few can afford to buy one of his paintings. According to Hilarie M. Sheets, writing for The New York Times, there are currently 9 exhibits showing his works somewhere in the world. Ruth and I like his paintings. If we hear about a Van Gogh show appearing in the United States, we go if we can. That’s one of the reasons why we traveled to Houston this month. One of the 9, and the most personal Van Gogh exhibit Ruth & I have ever seen, is in Houston now. It opened on March 10, 2019.
When I was in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam several years ago, I did something I had never done before. After I looked at his paintings, I went back through the entire museum to study only the people looking at them. They were mostly family groups of all ages and universally enjoying seeing Van Gogh’s art. I began to wonder why he had such appeal only after he died, and I came to the conclusion that he’s loved by ordinary people who can relate to his simple subjects. Van Gogh didn’t paint like other artists of his era. His brother Theo, whom he was close to and is probably the man in the painting below, was always giving him advice. Vincent never took it. He was driven to do things his way when other artists were favoring Impressionism or painting portraits of the wealthy.
According to Hilarie, The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller in Otterlo, which has the world’s 2nd largest collection of Vincent’s works, have lent 50 of them to Houston. This show doesn’t focus on one period in his life; it’s comprehensive with early to final works. Most of them have simple subjects and have not been exhibited in this country before. The painting above of fishing boats is from Amsterdam.
Vincent Van Gogh, son of a Protestant minister, was born in Zundert, the Netherlands, in 1853. Vincent held several jobs before deciding to devote the rest of his life to painting at the age of 27. Because he was so driven, his enormous output represents only 10 years of work since he died at the age of 37. According to one informational panel in the exhibit and the recently released movie At Eternity’s Gate starring Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh, he was misunderstood, epileptic, mentally unstable, and had difficulties with human relationships, even with his loyal brother. Vincent died in Theo’s arms. I didn’t know that they had a cousin, Anton Mauve, who was a successful landscape artist. Two of Vincent’s early and difficult-to-like subjects were a church being demolished in Nuenen and his now famous potato eaters. One of his final subjects was his leather clogs, painted when he was confined in a mental institution. Vincent Van Gogh was fascinated by the color yellow, wrote hundreds of letters, mostly to Theo, and sketched constantly. His inspiration to paint his shoes is a telling scene in Julian Schnabel’s film At Eternity’s Gate. Schnabel is primarily an artist, not a film maker.
This fine exhibit closes on June 27, 2019, and will not go to another museum in the United States. It’s reason enough to make a trip to MFA, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
ps The sketch below became the famous painting “Terrace of the Café on the Place du Forum in Arles in the Evening”.