“Van Gogh Up Close” is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until May 6.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art kicked off the month of February with its newest exhibit, “Van Gogh Up Close.” The exhibit, which opened Feb. 1, features the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh from the second half of his painting career. Philadelphia is the exhibit’s only stop in the U.S.
Van Gogh did not start studying art until 1880, after failed attempts at careers as a pastor and teacher. The works span the last four-and-a -half years of Van Gogh’s life, from 1886 when he moved to Paris, to 1890 when he committed suicide in northern France.
The exhibit focuses on Van Gogh’s previously overlooked “close-ups” of landscapes and still-lifes. These works provide a colorful contrast from his early work, which use a neutral palette of greens, browns and grays.
Jennifer Thompson, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick associate curator of European painting before 1900 at the museum, worked closely with senior curator Joseph Rishel in developing the exhibit. Thompson has been with the museum for more than 10 years, and has organized critically acclaimed exhibitions that have travelled internationally to cities like Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo.
“This is a very new perspective on Van Gogh, who is very well known,” Thompson said. “There are exhibitions devoted to Van Gogh somewhere in the world almost every single year, but this exhibition is taking a very precise look at the group of works Van Gogh painted while he was living in France.”
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the only American stop for the Van Gogh exhibit, which was collected in conjunction with the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. In May, the collection will move to Canada before the paintings are returned to the museums to which they belong.
Some of the paintings are on loan from Germany and the Netherlands and are making their U.S. debut.
Curt and Jane Straub, museum members from outside of Philadelphia, said they were inspired to come see this collection after visiting an exhibit that featured Van Gogh’s portraits.
“We keep an eye out for special exhibitions they have, but we are big fans of impressionists, generally,” Curt Straub said.
“This is wonderful – his portraits are a little scary, but the landscapes are beautiful,” Jane Straub said. “They’re just gorgeous.”
“What Van Gogh is doing here is very deliberately and very calculatedly producing pictures of landscapes or still-lifes, which are taking a very different view of the world around him,” Thompson said.
These paintings have not, until now, been gathered and studied together as an integral part of Van Gogh’s works. This collection is meant to allow for a greater understanding of his artistry.
The culmination of the exhibition is Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossom.” Painted out of joy at the birth of his nephew and given to the newborn as a gift, the bright canvas hangs on a wall of its own at the end of the exhibit. It is one of the last paintings the Van Gogh family donated to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
“I understand that the family still has to approve the loan of this work which they do very, very rarely,” Thompson said. “This is the second time, or so, that this has been in the United States. We’re thrilled to have it as a great example of our subject, which is a very intense study of nature.”
The gift shop is filled with posters, coffee mugs and other souvenirs plastered with this iconic painting.
In addition to the more than 40 paintings by Van Gogh, the exhibit also features works of Japanese woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige and Hayashi Roshü, and various European prints and drawings, from whom Van Gogh is said to have drawn inspiration. The additional pieces of art are instrumental in further understanding Van Gogh’s artistic techniques. Parallel ideas can be seen running through the works.
Sarah Arkebaur, a student living in Philadelphia and a member of the museum who said she visits regularly, came to see the exhibit with her mother who was visiting from Lincoln, Neb.
“It was neat to see the up-close focus on what you don’t regularly see, and the influence of Japanese art is interesting,” Arkebaur said.
Patrons of the exhibit move through a wide hallway with works on both sides, around the corner and into a large, open space with the featured landscapes. There are benches in the center of the room, where patrons can fully take in the paintings.
“We spent extra time just sitting in there,” Jane Straub said. “It was just so tranquil and nice.”
“Van Gogh Up Close” is open through May 6.
TJ Creedon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.