Van Gogh Times Two

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Opening at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC this week is a retrospective of some of Vincent van Gogh’s greatest works…and their répétitions, the replicas he worked tirelessly on to perfect. The exhibit showcases 13 of his paintings, copies and rough drafts and all, and even includes “new technical evidence, such as X-rays and high-resolution digital imagery, [to] firmly to resolve questions about the sequence of these works that have confounded scholars” for years. Some scholars even dismissed the répétitions as fakes, as the process of duplicating artworks, once the only way artists learned to paint, became a taboo bordering on forgery.

The exhibit was inspired by two specific paintings, “The Large Plane Trees” (Road Menders in Saint-Rémy)” in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and “The Road Menders” in the Phillips Collection. They are so nearly identical it is believed van Gogh might have even traced one. But which one came first? The curators believe that due to the density of brush strokes, “The Large Plane Trees” was likely painted outdoors, on the scene, where he would have been struggling to get the details just right, and is therefore likely the original. Fascinating! Who knew Vincent was such a perfectionist?

There are also six (SIX!) versions of his famous postman, and you’re encouraged to spend a lot of time examining the differences in each iteration. “When you compare van Gogh’s different versions of a design stroke by stroke, you start to relive his creative decisions. It’s a strangely mystical experience. It’s as if you’re absorbed into the intensity of his genius,” said conservator William Robinson. I can’t imagine a better thing to be absorbed by.

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October 8, 2013 / art / photo / LEAVE A COMMENT / 12

12 comments

  • Dude this is so interesting. Didn’t know that Vincent was such a perfectionist either!

    • It actually makes me kind of sad in a way. He was a perfectionist and he never saw any sort of success in his lifetime. Pretty depressing, although I guess you could make the argument that he spent his life doing what he loved, regardless of a reward. xo

  • i just want to take home one of the Postman paintings. but, oh, how to decide which one?! (pretending for a moment i really had to decide). i love the color in the one on the right, but i love the texture of the one on the left . . . do one of the six have both of these qualities together? can i have it? yes, this would be a fun way to spend the day, looking at these over and over again; in fact i couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day. xo

    • How much fun would it be to compare the versions side by side in person? All six of them! How would you ever pick a favorite? It wouldn’t matter, the time spent staring would be more than enough of a treat. xo

  • This is incredible and so interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    xx Alecia

    • Of course! It was too good a story to pass up. xo

  • This only goes to show that practice truly does make perfect and even the masters had to work (hard) to get to where they were happy with the final product. It’s also wonderful to think how technology has played a role into us finding out so much more about beloved old favourites

    • There are so many parallels I could draw about his process and writing and rewriting a book, but I’ll refrain because I’m not about to compare myself to van Gogh, haha. I wonder how he’d feel knowing we can examine his techniques under x-ray now? xo

  • We’ve been meaning to hop on the train up to DC to take in the botanical gardens and the galleries, etc., but now that the shut down is going on, we’ve put off those plans. I’d love to take in this exhibit if it’s still going on when we do finally get there.

    • Oh you have to. I wonder if this gallery is affected by the government shutdown, though? All of the national museums (Smithsonian, History, Space, etc) are closed because of it. Yet another reason to be mad! If you guys make it up let me know! DC is a doable train ride for us, too :) xo

  • My son knows one artist so far – van Gogh. When I take the kids to a museum, my son asks me if van Gogh is here. Hm, I think reading your blog has rubbed off on me. I’ve always loved van Gogh, but my appreciation for him has deepened. Because of you and posts like this? I liked to think so. As always, thank you for the fascinating information above.
    ps~Wah, it’s no fair that you and Lauren can so easily meet up. [Said with much love. ;)]

    • That’s beyond precious! You’re doing something right as a mama if your kid knows van Gogh by name ;) My oldest niece, many years ago, said he favorite artist was Jackson Pollock and I just stared at her. She was 4. Kids these days are so much more artsy than I realized! Haha.
      I’m more than happy to share this exhibit, I hope I get to go!
      PS, I’m still kicking myself I wasn’t able to sneak up to New York to meet you when you were here! A west coast visit is surely in order sometime soon. xo