Van Gogh exhibit shows influence of other artists

Vincent van Gogh, Tarascon Stagecoach, 1888. Oil on canvas, The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on loan since 1976 to the Princeton University Art Museum.
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Vincent van Gogh, Tarascon Stagecoach, 1888. Oil on canvas, The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on loan since 1976 to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Works are on display at the Columbus Museum of Art.

If all the current hype surrounding Vincent van Gogh has inspired you to learn more about the famous Dutch Post-Impressionist painter and see more of his original work, you won’t do better than heading to the Columbus Museum of Art.

We’re not talking here about the immersive floor-to-ceiling digital images of his famous paintings now on view throughout the world – including in Columbus - but a very special exhibition entitled “Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources.” It’s an exhibit that will be shown in only two American museums and features original works by the famous artist who, after his suicide at age 37, became one of the most influential figures in Western art history.

On view are 140 magnificent works of art. In addition to 17 paintings, drawings and prints by van Gogh, there’s artwork by many of the renowned 19th century contemporaries who influenced him: Paul Gauguin, Katsushika Hokusai, Honore Daumier, Edgar Degas, Eugene Delacroix, Utagawa Hiroshige, Édouard Manet, Jean-Francois Millet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Vincent van Gogh, Les Vessenots in Auvers, 1890. Oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Vincent van Gogh, Les Vessenots in Auvers, 1890. Oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
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Vincent van Gogh, Les Vessenots in Auvers, 1890. Oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

The artwork comes from 40 museums and private collection loans throughout the world. Three Ohio sister institutions also lent art: The Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art.

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There’s an important local connection that helps explain why the CMA was fortunate enough to mount this very special exhibition. Gregory White Smith, who grew up in Columbus, co-authored “Van Gogh: The Life,” with his husband, Steven Naifeh.

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Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh. ROBERT CLARK/CONTRIBUTED

Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh. ROBERT CLARK/CONTRIBUTED
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Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh. ROBERT CLARK/CONTRIBUTED

Naifeh and Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for their biography of Jackson Pollock. Sixty-one of the works from their personal collection are included in the Columbus show. Naifeh also authored “Van Gogh and the Artists He Loved.” Smith, passed away in 2014.

“Greg Smith would be as honored as I am to see our collection form the basis of this extraordinary and insightful exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art, his beloved hometown institution,” said Naifeh when announcing the show that honors his late husband. “He and I always looked forward to seeing works we own, by artists van Gogh admired, hanging side by side with glorious works by van Gogh himself.”

The show will be on view in Columbus through Feb. 6 and will then make its way to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California. The two institutions partnered to produce the exhibit which was co-curated in Columbus by Naifeh and Columbus Museum of Art Chief Curator Emeritus David Stark.

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Nannette Maciejunes, executive director and CEO of the Columbus Museum of Art, says the show has been “wonderfully popular.” Patrons are coming back more than once and enjoying both the artists they recognize and those they are discovering for the first time.

She’s obviously proud of the fact that two mid-sized museums have worked together on a show of this magnitude. “Doing a van Gogh show like this is a heavy lift,” says Maciejunes.

Touring the exhibit

If you’re wondering how we know so much about the artists who impacted van Gogh, it’s thanks to the more than 2,000 letters he wrote –mainly to his brother, Theo. Excerpts from many of the letters are incorporated into the labels in the galleries and explain a lot about van Gogh’s way of thinking, the art he wanted to make and the artists he admired.

“We all love the work of van Gogh but the works illustrated here give us the opportunity to love the art that VG himself loved,” wrote Naifeh in the introduction to his book, “Van Gogh and the Artists He Loved.”

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Paul Gauguin, Christmas Night (The Blessing of Oxen), 1902-3. Oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

Paul Gauguin, Christmas Night (The Blessing of Oxen), 1902-3. Oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.
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Paul Gauguin, Christmas Night (The Blessing of Oxen), 1902-3. Oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

You can’t miss the original art by van Gogh; you’ll spot it the minute you enter each of the rooms in the exhibit because the wall behind each of the original pieces is painted with a blue stripe. Blue was one of van Gogh’s favorite colors and it’s a dramatic way to set off the exhibit’s main attractions. Surrounding the original van Gogh work you’ll see the works of art and artists that inspired him.

“Not everything looks exactly like what you’d think of van Gogh,” Maciejunes says. “His career only lasted 10 years but we have incredible art from his early work with its wonderful earth tones; the Impressionist movement years when he’s in Paris, and the last months of his life which is the period most people associate with his work– expressive canvases with brilliant sea color.”

“Vincent’s Eyes,” she says, offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process and how an extraordinary painter like van Gogh would have been observing and absorbing the cultural milieu around him.”

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Here’s a perfect example: In his 1888 painting “Tarascon Stagecoach,” van Gogh pictures stagecoaches parked in the southern French town of Tarascon. The painting was inspired by an Alphonse Daudet novel, by Claude Monet’s vivid hues and by Adolphe Monticelli’s heavily textured brushwork. The painting was part of a suite meant to decorate van Gogh’s residence in Arles, France – the so-called Yellow House – in honor of the arrival of artist Paul Gauguin.

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Vincent van Gogh, Roses, 1890. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of Pamela Harriman in memory of W. Averell Harriman.

Credit: image courtesy National Gallery of Art

Vincent van Gogh, Roses, 1890. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of Pamela Harriman in memory of W. Averell Harriman.
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Vincent van Gogh, Roses, 1890. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of Pamela Harriman in memory of W. Averell Harriman.

Credit: image courtesy National Gallery of Art

Credit: image courtesy National Gallery of Art

The similarities and divergences between various artists’ approaches are explored through works such as Édouard Manet’s “Peonies” which in many ways resembles “Roses,” a still life by van Gogh. “Roses” is painted with such thick layers of paint that, according to one of the artist’s letters, it took an entire month for the paint to dry. Manet’s work is the highlight of a section of the exhibition that includes flower paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour and Adolphe Monticelli, in addition to van Gogh’s “Vase with Poppies.”

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Edouard Manet, "Peonies," 1864-65. Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975. CONTRIBUTED

Edouard Manet, "Peonies," 1864-65. Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975. CONTRIBUTED
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Edouard Manet, "Peonies," 1864-65. Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975. CONTRIBUTED

People may also be surprised to see Japanese woodblock prints in the show. “Van Gogh loved Japanese prints and was influenced by the flat patterning,” says Maciejunes. “It’s fun to discover both visual and literary sources. He was a voracious reader so the exhibit includes a lot of first edition books.” You’ll see early editions of novels by Charles Dickens, Guy de Maupassant, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo.

“This is an exhibition that helps make the artist’s imagination more tangible for us,” said Stark. “Van Gogh was a figure in art history known for the complicated, often troubled, path of his creative process. We gain access to another dimension of his art and life in this exhibition, another glimpse into what his world was like.”

HOW TO GO:

What: “Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources”

Where: Columbus Museum of Art, 480 East Broad St., Columbus

When: Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday. Through Feb. 6. The show will be at the Museum of Art in Santa Barbara, California, Feb. 27-May 22.

Tickets: Admission to CMA Tuesday through Sunday is $18 for adults, $9 for seniors (60+), students (18+) and children (4–17), free for members and children 3 and under. Special exhibition admission to Through Vincent’s Eyes is an additional $10. Admission is discounted on Thursdays – general admission is $5 on Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and entrance to the special exhibition on Thursday evenings is $5. General admission is free for all on Sundays. General admission for Dayton Art Institute members is free; DAI members will pay the $10 fee for the van Gogh exhibition. Parking is $5.

Publications

If you want to learn more about van Gogh, consider these three excellent books, all available in the Columbus Museum of Art Gift Shop:

“Van Gogh and the Artists He Loved” by New York Times-bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and exhibition guest curator Steven Naifeh, published by Random House. The book includes nearly 300 full-color reproductions and an afterword by Ann Dumas, Columbus Museum of Art’s adjunct curator of European Art and a curator of the Royal Academy of Art in London. ($40)

“Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources,” a 320-page lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue designed and produced by Lucia|Marquand Books, Seattle, and distributed by Yale University Press. ($60)

“Van Gogh: The Life,” written by Steven Naifeh, co-curator of the Columbus exhibit and his husband, Gregory White Smith, who grew up in Columbus. Published by Random House. ($28).

Related programs:

A number of programs are being presented in connection with this exhibit and some can be accessed free online. They include “Van Gogh in the Movies” with film historian Susan Doll (Jan 6); Classic Art Book Club discussing The Last van Gogh” by Alyson Richman (Jan. 13, $5 for non-members) and a lecture by Ohio State professor Andrew Shelton (Jan. 15).

There’s also a one-act play, “Vincent,” being presented live by the Red Herring Theater and a film screening of “Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing” on Feb 7, in person only. Visit columbusmuseum.org and click on Events & Programs for more information about the a full schedule of upcoming programs.

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