Beautiful Life and Style


Museum Monday: Van Gogh Repetitions

I am always reading about interesting art exhibits around the world, and while I hardly have the time or budget to visit them all, I have decided to do a series of posts highlighting them here. Maybe you will have the opportunity to visit and report back on these “Museum Mondays” so I may live vicariously through you!

I’m sorry for the lateness of today’s post- you would think I would have had some time to plan ahead while I was home for Thanksgiving- but of course I fell completely off the grid! However, on the train ride home, as I was reading the Amtrak gem “Arrive” magazine, I found an ad for the exhibit “Van Gogh Repetitions” currently on view in Washington DC. It looks fascinating, so of course I had to share it here!

The exhibition is a study of a lesser known side to Van Gogh’s artisitic process- examining the paintings whose subjects he visited multiple times. The term “repetitions” is actually one coined by Van Gogh to “describe his practice of creating more than one version of a particular subject.” The exhibit was originally inspired by the close relationship between the Cleveland Museum’s The Large Plane Trees (the first below) and the Phillips Collection’s The Road Menders (the second one) both dating from late 1889. I think you’ll agree- even the phrase “close relationship” is an understatement! Curators for the exhibit studied the two at length, using microscopes, digital photography, and X-radiographs, trying to decide which is the original and which was created later in the studio. Can you guess? While the colors are a notable difference, it is the brushstrokes that truly sets them apart. The Road Menders has more deliberate and controlled lines, while the spontaneity of the brushstrokes in The Large Plane Trees suggests it is the original field painting.

Large Plane Trees the Road Menders

This curatorial process was repeated for 13 different repetitions- some with as many as nine variations on a theme! I have to imagine it was very fun to try and dig into each piece’s history and uncover the “original”. The Postman Joseph Roulin was one of Van Gogh’s favorite subjects and in real life, a true friend- visiting him in the hospital soon after the artist cut off his ear. Below are Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin, December 1888 and The Postman Joseph Roulin, May 1888

portrait-of-the-postman-joseph-roulin The Postman Joseph Roulin

The curators of the exhibition aim to suggest that these refined repetitions are proof in point that Van Gogh is much more of true artist than history might remember him as. While many people suggest that it was only his mental illness creating beautiful masterpieces in frenzied fits of inspiration, these works show the more thoughtful side of the artist.

I know in the past when I have created my own paintings, I can never decide when it is “finished”. “One more brushstroke here.. or what if I added a hint of this color?..” It seems to me that Van Gogh had the same issue- but then struggled to the point of needing to completely start over- to reinvent the work as a new experiment. A first draft, a second draft, etc. Did he ever consider any of them “final” or “perfect”? I guess we will never know, but we can certainly visit and pick our own favorites!

Van Gogh Repetitions will be shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D. C., from October 2013 to January 2014, and then will make its own “repetition” at the Cleveland Museum of Art from March 2014 to May 2014. Please report back if you visit either! Van Gogh’s works are definitely ones that must be experienced in person.