Vincent van Gogh Iris, 1889 Oil on thinned cardboard, mounted on canvas 62.2 × 48.3 cm National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

From May 25 to September 3, 2012 – National Gallery of Canada

Van Gogh: Up Close is the first major exhibition in Canada in over 25 years of works by this famous Dutch artist. It brings together more than 40 of Van Gogh’s paintings from private and public collections around the world, as well as a selection of Japanese woodblock prints, nineteenth-century photographs, and works on paper from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

This exhibition explores Van Gogh’s love for nature and his gift for representing the world around him, from landscapes down to the smallest blade of grass.

Vincent van Gogh View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer , 1888 Oil on canvas, 64.2 × 53 cm Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands Photo © Stichting Kröller-Müller Museum

or example, the show includes 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.

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.

Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers, 1887 Kunstmuseum Bern Gift of Prof. Hans R. Hahnloser, Bern

t 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.

Vincent van Gogh Undergrowth with Two Figures, 1890 Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio Bequest of Mary E. Johnston Image: The Bridgeman Art Library

ften remembered for his battles with mental illness and suicide in July 1890, Van Gogh was first and foremost an ambitious, well-read and sophisticated thinker whose work was informed and deliberate.

Born in 1853, he was fluent in English, French and Dutch, and he had a great love for the written word. Throughout his life he read a vast amount of literature that stretched from the Bible to French Naturalist writings. Vincent 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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