First major Canadian exhibition of works by van Gogh for more than 25 years to open at the National Gallery

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First major Canadian exhibition of works by van Gogh for more than 25 years to open at the National Gallery
Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890. Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 92 cm. Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

OTTAWA.- The National Gallery of Canada’s 2012 exceptional summer show, Van Gogh: Up Close, will be the first major Canadian exhibition of works by the famous Dutch artist for more than 25 years. In what promises to be a truly unique exhibition, visitors to the National Gallery will have the opportunity to discover Vincent van Gogh’s genius from an entirely new perspective by exploring the artist’s approach to nature through his innovative use of the close-up view. Opening on May 25, 2012, the exhibition is organized in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and supported by Sun Life Financial, the exhibition will be honoured by the patronage of Her Majesty The Queen of the Netherlands and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Van Gogh: Up Close will feature some 45 paintings from private and public collections around the world, offering the opportunity to see some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings alongside others that are rarely, if ever, shown. The exhibition will also explore parallel uses of the close-up view in Japanese prints, drawings from the 16th through the 19th century and 19th-century photographs to provide a context for Van Gogh’s extraordinary compositions.

"Vincent van Gogh’s profound love of nature has often been taken for granted, but has rarely been studied. This project will give us fresh insight into Van Gogh’s thinking and places him in a new and unexpected light," said NGC director Marc Mayer. "We are profoundly indebted to our lenders, both institutional and private. Without their generosity and commitment to this undertaking Van Gogh: Up Close would have been impossible."

“As a long-standing supporter of the arts in Canada, we are proud to partner with the National Gallery as Presenting Sponsor of this outstanding exhibition,” said Dean Connor, President of Sun Life Financial. “We are delighted that thousands of Canadians will now have the opportunity to view some of this brilliant artist’s most original and radical work.”

Nature in focus
Beginning with his work from Paris (1886/7) and continuing to the end of his career (1890), the exhibition will reveal how Van Gogh experimented with depth of field and focus by zooming in on a tuft of grass or a single budding iris in some paintings, while providing shifting views of a field or garden in others. For example, the show will display Iris (1889), from the National Gallery of Canada’s collection, as well as paintings that depict another corner of the garden where Van Gogh painted Iris, but from a wider angle. Van Gogh: Up Close will demonstrate how these paintings became the most radical and innovative in the artist’s body of work.

Where it started
In early 1886 Van Gogh arrived in Paris from the Netherlands and came face to face with a revolutionary new way of painting. For the first time he was exposed to the art of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, which compelled him to revise his painting in both content and style. He quickly abandoned the sombre hues of his earlier Dutch works in favour of a brighter palette and modernized brushstroke, beginning with a series of flower still lifes painted in a typical 19th-century Western style. But Van Gogh swiftly departed from this tradition and focused increasingly on the subject itself, eliminating the surrounding space.

At the same time, Van Gogh developed a keen interest in Japanese woodblock prints, which he admired for their aesthetic qualities. Like the Impressionist painters who had discovered these prints earlier, Van Gogh became fascinated with Japanese art. This led him to experiment with unusual visual angles, decorative use of colour, cropping and flattening of his compositions.

In 1888, in Arles, Vincent van Gogh wrote: If we study Japanese art, then we see a man, undoubtedly wise, who spends his time – on what? – studying the distance from the earth to the moon? […] – no, he studies a single blade of grass. This blade of grass leads him to draw all the plants – then the seasons, the broad features of landscapes, finally animals, and then the human figure. He spends his life like that, and life is too short to do everything.

Van Gogh, the man
While often remembered for his battles with mental illness, Van Gogh was an ambitious, well-read and sophisticated thinker whose work was informed and deliberate. He was fluent in English, French and Dutch, and he had a great love for the written word. Through out his life he read a vast amount of literature that stretched from the bible to French Naturalist writings. Van Gogh also had a strong understanding of art history that extended from Old Master paintings right up to the emergence of photography.

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