Van Gogh was not a cursed artist. An intense exhibition at Orsay | Judith Benhamou Reports
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An extraordinary exhibition at Orsay
The Musée d’Orsay is presenting an extraordinary exhibition dedicated to the last days of Vincent Van Gogh when he was living near Doctor Gachet in Auvers sur Oise. Along with the visual feast it brings, the show also dismantles one of the common assumptions made about the artist. No, he was not a cursed artist.
Refuge at Auvers
You can be a painter and commit suicide with a shot from a revolver pointed at your chest without being a cursed artist. This is the claim of the new and extraordinary exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh at the Musée d’Orsay. It zooms in closely on his final days, and more specifically on the period from 20 May to 29 July 1890, while the painter was taking “refuge” in a small village 122 kilometres from Paris, Auvers sur Oise.
This is where a medic was practicing who specialized in what was then prettily known as “melancholy”, Doctor Gachet. His primary prescription for Vincent was to immerse himself in his painting, and he obeyed him. During this short space of time he produced no less than 73 paintings and 33 drawings. 43 of these canvases have been brought together at Orsay in collaboration with the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, which has just staged an exhibition featuring almost identical content but with a very different layout (See the report about the show in Amsterdam here).
Here the curator of the French version of the exhibition, Emmanuel Coquery, hopes to demonstrate that “Van Gogh did not kill himself because he wasn’t successful. He was manic-depressive and had psychotic episodes, and alcohol worsened his condition. Furthermore, his family provided fertile ground for this since later one of his brother committed suicide and his sister died in an asylum.
Tributes by Monet
He was also starting to be recognized, and we are exhibiting letters paying tribute to him written by Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec…” For a long time it was thought that Vincent’s last painting was a large landscape, a field of wheat above which is scattered a flock of black crows against the composition made up of golds and blues. But that would have been too easy.
His final canvas
His actual final canvas, painted on 27 July, has no beginning or end, it is a “portrait” of tree roots in shades of blue and yellow, which could lead to multiple interpretations. This very unique work is part of an ensemble of 12 longer landscapes (we talk about double-square format) inspired by Japanese paintings.
Eleven double-square canvas
Eleven of them have been brought together especially for this major show. We note the master’s virtuosity and above all his obsession with the idea of pattern.
Obsession for patterns
He inserts dots and marks, small and large, to create his landscapes. He stripes the canvas with tree trunks placed in perspective while a couple stands in the distance. He literally crosses out the work using lines depicting the rain falling over the village. At Orsay, the works are hung according to thematic series. As Emmanuel Coquery says, “Van Gogh wasn’t crazy when he was painting”. He made the colours and forms dance gloriously.
Until 4 February, Van Gogh à Auvers sur Oise. Les derniers mois. www.musee-orsay.fr/fr
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