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Art: Vincent van Gogh.
“Memory of the Garden at Etten” (1888), oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

From the quasi-animated film Loving Vincent to revelations in old postcards, Vincent van Gogh has been making a lot of headlines in the last few years. I’ve covered a few of the stories myself: for example here, here, and here.

Now there’s a book aiming to shine a light on the artist’s three sisters. Eva Recinos reviewed it for Hyperallergic.

“We might sometimes forget that major artists have had to exist as people, too, with all the trials and tribulations that might come before they reach fame. Take, for example, family dynamics. And in the van Gogh family, there were many of them. 

“Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

“Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. …

“But about 100 pages in, there’s still a lot of focus on Vincent and his two brothers, Theodorus (Theo) and Cornelis (Cor) van Gogh, as well as their father. … While we do get more insight into the sisters’ lives, quite a few pages are dedicated to Vincent.

“The reproductions of art are largely his works. That’s clearly because there’s more of his art to share, yet it takes the reader out of the narrative about the sisters. (The book does include a watercolor piece by his mother, Anna Carbentus, also known as Moe van Gogh. She was an avid gardener and created pieces to capture the beauty of nature.) …

“We learn that Wil has an interest in making her own art and writing. She explored flower arranging and wrote an article for the journal ‘The Dutch Lily’ that was ‘an unconventional guide to flower arranging,’ Verlinden writes (one line speaks of her love for ‘more loosely arranged flowers’). Vincent, for his part, wrote to Theo that maybe Wil could marry an artist; as much as he did love discussing the arts with her, it can be deduced that he didn’t exactly see her being a professional artist herself.

“She eventually focused her efforts on the National Exhibition of Women’s Labour, which was organized to shed light on women’s contributions to the economy, particularly through the production of goods. But Wil would also end up struggling with mental health. She spent more than three decades of her life at a psychiatric institution, where she passed away.

“Lies wrote poetry and would go on to publish multiple books — including one centered on the life and work of Vincent. There’s also a fourth sister, of sorts, in the text. Johanna Gezina Bonger (Jo), Vincent’s sister-in-law, who helped organize exhibitions of his work after he died in 1890.  

“Ultimately, if you approach the book as a fan of Vincent van Gogh’s work, it will feel like a deeper dive into his place within the family, such as his struggles to prove himself as an artist to his parents and his complicated relationship with his sisters — an argument with Anna likely drove him from the family home in 1885 and he was disappointed that his other sisters, especially Wil, didn’t come to his defense. … But as with any under-highlighted history, we can only hope future research will tell us even more.”

The Van Gogh Sisters, by Willem-Jan Verlinden (2021), is published by Thames & Hudson and is available at Bookshop.org.

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Image: arthénon
A postcard called  “Rue Daubigny, Auvers-sur-Oise” is superimposed with parts of the painting “Tree Roots” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh, revealing new insights on the artist’s last hours.

One doesn’t need to go to Mars or the Himalayas or Sedona to make discoveries. One doesn’t need to skydive or eat insects or tag sharks to have new experiences. Not that people shouldn’t seek out adventure, but the truth is, there’s always quite a lot to discover right where you are — maybe just deepening your understanding of what makes an old friend tick.

I loved this story of a discovery about the great Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, a discovery made just by studying an old postcard and thinking.

Jasmine Weber writes at the arts website Hyperallergic, “In one of the most captivating artistic discoveries made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher has pinpointed the likely location of Vincent van Gogh’s final painting, ‘Tree Roots’ (1890).

“Wouter van der Veen, the scientific director of the Institut van Gogh, noticed the oil painting’s clear resemblance to a portion of a postcard from the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the Dutch painter took his life in 1890. Dated between 1900-1910, the postcard shows mangled tree roots growing out of the hillside; when superimposed onto the photograph, the painting seems to be a perfect match.

When France lifted its COVID-19 lockdown this May, Van der Veen was able to visit the spot and found the large trunk still looked as it had over a century ago.

“Van der Veen submitted his findings to two senior researchers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp. The pair believes there is a ‘high plausibility’ that the the hillside in the town where van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, was the same as the motif in ‘Tree Trunks,’ which belongs to the museum’s collection. …

“ ‘On closer observation, the overgrowth on the postcard shows very clear similarities to the shape of the roots on Van Gogh’s painting,’ [Meedendorp] said in a press release. …

“ ‘The site is also consistent with Van Gogh’s habit of painting motifs from his immediate surroundings,’ said van Der Veen. He adds that the ‘sunlight painted by Van Gogh indicates that the last brush strokes were painted towards the end of the afternoon,’ contributing further information about van Gogh’s last hours.

“The Institut van Gogh has since worked with local authorities to build a protective wooden structure around the site.” More.

In one more example of the benefits of having plenty of time to think, the BBC adds that Mr Van der Veen “had the revelation at his home in Strasbourg, France, during lockdown. … [and] visited the site to verify his theory in May 2020, once coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in France.

“A ceremony was held in Auvers-sur-Oise, a few miles north of Paris, [in July] to mark the discovery of the apparent location. Emilie Gordenker, the general director of the Van Gogh Museum, and Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo, were in attendance to unveil a commemorative plaque at the site.” More at the BBC.

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van-gogh-exhibit

Photo: Immersive van Gogh exhibit
The co-producer of the van Gogh drive-through exhibition in Toronto says, “It will be almost as if the car is floating through the paintings.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This story reminds me of friends who refuse to take no for an answer. Somehow they figure out how to make a thing happen no matter the obstacles.

Zulekha Nathoo reports for CBC News, “An upcoming digital art exhibit featuring the work of Vincent van Gogh is planning to open next month in Toronto, but you’ll need a car to get in.

“The large-scale exhibition, which was initially supposed to begin May 1 but couldn’t open as a result of the pandemic, will temporarily operate as a drive-in starting June 18 to adhere to current COVID-19 physical distancing and health guidelines.

“The exhibit’s producers said after a year of working on the original plan and purchasing the rights to more than 400 pieces from different museums, they didn’t want to give up on the project. ….

“Said co-producer Svetlana Dvoretsky, ‘People have to see the light at the end of the tunnel and also the light during this situation.’

“Art lovers will drive into the 4,000 square foot downtown industrial space and will stay inside their vehicles. … The drive-in, the first of its kind in a post-pandemic era, will allow 14 vehicles per time slot. Visitors will park, turn off their engines and watch a 35-minute show while remaining inside their cars.

” ‘The lights go down and the projection begins,’ said co-producer Corey Ross. ‘It will be almost as if the car is floating through the paintings.’

“The exhibit includes some of the Dutch painter’s most well-known masterpieces, including ‘Starry Night,’ ‘Sunflowers’ and many self-portraits. It also attempts to chronicle the famed artist’s tragic demise through the works.

” ‘It’s not that you just walk in and see the display of his paintings. That, you can see in a museum,’ said Dvoretsky.

‘What our artists have done with this exhibit is they take you inside the painting … They’re trying to show us their version of how the story is born in the mind of the genius.’

“The Gogh by Car exhibit is an interim alternative to the walk-through van Gogh exhibit at the same location, which has been postponed until at least July due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the producers say the ‘test drive’ could continue beyond its currently scheduled 11-day preview if public gatherings are still limited over the summer. …

“The installation has been designed by the creators of the successful Paris-based digital art project Atelier des Lumières, which received more than two million visitors before the global shutdown.”

More at the CBC, here. The exhibit is not free, but the cost covers both the drive-through for two and a future walk-through.

To learn more about van Gogh, check out this wonderful, quasi-animated film called Loving Vincent. Here’s the trailer.

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An art museum in Minnesota has used the occasion of its 100th birthday to grow a field-size replica of a Van Gogh work.

Emile Klein at Studio 360 has the story.

“The Minneapolis Institute of Art [MIA] has been throwing a year-long party for its 100th birthday, and the guest list has been a bit of a cultural catch-all. …

“How about a 1.2 acre rendition of a Vincent van Gogh painting, composed with items you could buy at the Home Depot?

“Van Gogh’s original piece, Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, measures about two feet by three feet and hangs on a wall in the MIA. The new rendition, by land artist Stan Herd, covers 1.2 acres, or 7,230 Olive Trees. It’s so big that you’d have to fly a plane over to appreciate it …

“As a land artist, Herd knows that most of his work is just too big to fit inside a traditional museum, and that’s OK by him. ‘I’m a Kansan, and I make art on a frickin’ tractor. Do I really want the avant garde en Paris to see it?’

“Even if a major museum could secure zoning rights, representational art like the kind Herd makes is out of fashion in the art world. Surprisingly, the person who might appreciate Herd’s work the most is van Gogh himself. …

“Herd’s slice of Saint-Rémy won’t last forever. It will fade over time. Surprisingly, so will van Gogh’s. That’s because he painted with pigments now known to be ‘fugitive,’ like a very slowly disappearing ink. The chrome yellows and scarlets scattered throughout the painting’s sky will, in time, wilt like the marigolds in Herd’s field. Everything in nature is ephemeral — van Gogh would probably like that.”

More at Studio 360, here.

Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art
A living representation of a Van Gogh painting. (Those are actual cars in the lower right corner.)

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Art: Van Gogh
Moulin d’Alphonse, painted in Arles in southern France.

Once again, a master’s work has been rediscovered. This time the master is Van Gogh, and the work’s identification is all thanks to a sister-in-law who knew a great artist when she saw one.

Dalya Alberge at the Guardian has the story. “A landscape by Vincent van Gogh is to be exhibited for the first time in more than 100 years following the discovery of crucial evidence that firmly traces back its history directly to the artist.

“The significance of two handwritten numbers scribbled almost imperceptibly on the back had been overlooked until now. They have been found to correspond precisely with those on two separate lists of Van Gogh’s works drawn up by Johanna, wife of the artist’s brother, Theo.

“Johanna, who was widowed in 1891 – months after Vincent’s death – singlehandedly generated interest in his art. She brought it to the attention of critics and dealers, organising exhibitions, although she obviously could never have envisaged the millions that his works would fetch today.

“Le Moulin d’Alphonse Daudet à Fontvieille, which depicts vivid green grapevines leading up to a windmill with broken wings in the distance, is a work on paper that he created with graphite, reed pen and ink and watercolour shortly after he reached Arles, in the south of France. It dates from 1888, two years before his untimely death.” More here.

When I was sixteen, I passed through Arles on a kind of tour. I am sorry to say the only thing I remember clearly is that the teacher said you had to translate “to Arles” as “en Arles” instead of “à Arles,” as you would say for other cities. Only guess what! A quick Google search informs me “en Arles” is only for people stuck in the 19th century.

On me pose très souvent la question de savoir si je me suis trompé en disant à Arles (vs. en Arles). Et bien non, à part si vous êtes resté au IXème siècle …

David Larlet is the source, and I have no idea if he is an expert. I assure you I wasn’t 16 in the 19th century, but my teacher was rather old fashioned.

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Liz Stinson writes at Wired magazine about a bike lane in the Netherlands created to evoke Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night.

“If you happen to be near Eindhoven in the Netherlands, you can walk or bike down a glowing path modeled after Van Gogh’s masterpiece. The one kilometer lane is the work of Daan Roosegaarde …

“The Van Gogh-Rooosegaarde bike path (located near where Van Gogh himself lived from 1883-1885) uses a luminescent material that charges during the day and glows at night. These glowing bits look like little pebbles, but they’re actually not rocks at all. Using the smart coating material developed with Dutch infrastructure company Heijmans, Roosegaarde was able to create 50,000 fluorescent ‘rocks’ that he then embedded into wet concrete in a swirling, pointillism pattern reminiscent of Starry Night. …

“The big goal is to make the coating as dynamic as possible—shifting colors, markings or appearing and disappearing altogether—to account for our ever-changing urban spaces. …

“The designer suspects the path’s real draw will change from person to person. ‘Some people will come because they’re interested in safety and energy-friendly landscapes, others will come because they want to experience art and science,’ he says.”

More here.

Photo: Studio Roosegaarde
Daan Roosegaarde created a glowing bike path in the Netherlands based on Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

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Barnes-3

 

 

 

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Today I need the Indian goddess with the many arms because I want to say about the Barnes Collection in its new home, “On the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand …”

After I saw the documentary The Art of the Steal, about how the fabulous art collection that was willed to a historically black college to keep it from art-world experts ended up in the hands of art world experts, I thought a trustee at Lincoln University had sold his patrimony for a mess of pottage. Now I think that receiving untold wealth is a curse and the donor better have a good plan and lots of resources to support the unfortunate recipient. (More about the movie.)

That’s two hands.

On Thursday, having visited the Albert C. Barnes collection in its new Philadelphia Museum of Art building, I needed a few more hands.

On the third hand, the building is gorgeous in its simplicity and displays the art (69 Cezannes, anyone? How about 60 Matisses? 44 Picassos? 178 Renoirs? Do you love Seurat? Van Gogh? Pennsylvania Dutch furniture?) in the quirky layout of the old Merion, Pa., setting and without labels as Barnes did. On the fourth hand, lack of labels is annoying. On the fifth hand, the art experts provide an ipod with lectures on selected works and a booklet to identify all the items exhibited. On the sixth hand, faithful as the layout is, Dr. Barnes, who made his money in pharmaceuticals and wanted ordinary working families to enjoy and study art without the filter of the art establishment — would have had a heart attack about the entry fee and the standard gift shop and coffee shop and other luxurious museum appointments.

The museum is definitely worth seeing, for the building, the art, and the way the roaring controversy was all handled. But it’s the little things I will cherish like finding black and white illustrations that reminded me of Dickens illustrations and turned out to be by the school friend Barnes asked to help form his taste and get him started on collecting (William Glackens).

Giorgio de Chirico, Portrait of Albert C. Barnes, 1926

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Today it’s a bit hard to imagine Cezanne, Matisse, Duchamp, and Van Gogh shocking anyone, but at the Armory art show in New York City 100 years ago, they did. Tom Vitale at National Public Radio has the story.

“On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

“The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase ‘avant-garde’ was used to describe painting and sculpture. …

“It was the Europeans — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp — that caused a sensation.

“American audiences were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries — ‘a very realistic type of art,’ says Marilyn Kushner, the co-curator of an exhibition called ‘The Armory Show at 100’ that opens in October at the New York Historical Society. …

“The most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory.’

“In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

“When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create ‘such a “furor,” ‘ the artist responded: “Not the slightest.” …

“Duchamp went on in the 1963 interview to say that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

” ‘There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?’ Duchamp said. ‘Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.’ ” More.

Photograph: Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013)

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