Van Gogh Museum

I’m glad we’d bought our tickets for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in advance via their website. When we arrived the queues were enormous and chaotic. But with a timed ticket we just had a short while to wait until our slot came up and then we were able to waltz past the main queue and into the museum.* Once inside it was extremely busy (not surprising considering the number of people queuing outside) and with people crowding around the most well known paintings, it wasn’t a relaxing experience to say the least.

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It’s well known that during his lifetime Van Gogh was unappreciated, to say the least. He sold very few paintings even though his brother, Theo, was an art dealer and tried to push his work. Alas, it was to no avail. When Vincent died in 1890 Theo was left a large number of works, but he still wasn’t able to sell them. Theo died only a few months after brother so his widow, Johanna, inherited the collection. She became an evangelist for Vincent’s work, arranging exhibitions and publishing the numerous letters Vincent had written to Theo over many years. Gradually, Vincent’s work began to become appreciated and, eventually, he became the “mega-star” artist we all know whose paintings are now worth millions.

The museum has a massive collection of works by Van Gogh, donated by his nephew, Vincent Willem van Gogh, with some by his friends and contemporaries. In fact, it has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world – 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters. The permanent exhibition provided a thorough overview of his development as an artist.

His early works were dark and sombre, typified by The potato eaters (1885)

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It was when he moved to Paris that he discovered the Impressionists and turned to the dazzling use of colour producing those pictures for which he is most well known, such as

Bedroom in Arles (1888)

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Sunflowers (1889)

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and Almond Blossoms (1890)

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The influence of Japanese artists being particularly noticeable in the latter.

All of the above, and many, many more, were on display in the museum during our visit. Although the hordes of visitors made it very difficult to stand and contemplate the paintings. The large number of works was also overwhelming and I was feeling almost dizzy by the time we’d worked our way through the galleries.

I’m not convinced that mega-galleries like this are the best way to display art. People rush through the museum ticking off the masterpieces, but I don’t think it’s possible to take it all in – it’s overwhelming. Several visits, would be needed to properly study and appreciate a lifetime’s work and the majority of visitors were tourists, many of whom would probably never have the opportunity to visit again.

The museum has an excellent website with lots of information about Van Gogh’s life and work.

(All pictures sourced from Wikipedia)

* the new entrance hall  was due to open on 5th September. Perhaps that will ease the congestion outside – but I  don’t think it will make it less crowded inside!

Musée de l’Orangerie

Like London, there is a massive number of art galleries and museums in Paris. And like London the most well known like the Louvre and the Gare d’Orsay, are so large that it’s exhausting trying to look round. It’s guaranteed that you’ll be “arted out” before you see all but a fraction of their collections. So during our recent short break in Paris we decided to concentrate on some of our favourite smaller galleries showing Impressionist and Post Impressionist works. The first of these was the Musée de l’Orangerie, located in the south west corner of the Jardin des Tuileries.

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Of course, “small” is a relative term. The Orangerie has an exceptional collection and we spent just over a couple of hours looking around. They have a good number of works, but not so many that you become overwhelmed meaning that you can spend time studying the paintings.

The ground floor is devoted to Monet with two, large oval rooms beautifully lit with natural light, displaying  8 large murals of waterlillies which were donated to the nation by Monet after the First World War. Both the paintings and the setting are magnificent and sitting contemplating the murals was relaxing. Although fairly busy, there weren’t too many people in the galleries getting in the way.

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The lower gallery displays pictures from the Collection Jean Walter et Paul Guillaume which includes works by artists including

Cezanne,

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Derain,

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Marie Laurencin 

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Modigliani,

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Monet

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Picasso,

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Renoir,

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Soutine,

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and Utrillo

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Collecting Gauguin at the Courtauld

We’ve just returned from a short family holiday in London. Three days when we were able to take in some sights, museums and art as well as enjoy some time together. On the second day we split up – kids to the Natural History Museum and parents to look at some art.

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Nevermore (1897)

Our first port of call was the Courtauld Gallery. I’d been there on my own just a few months ago during a short trip to London which was primarily for business, but I managed  to devote half a day to some art and culture, including a visit to the Courtauld where they were showing an exhibition of early paintings by Picasso.

The current exhibition features works by Gauguin collected by Samuel Courtauld, all but two of which are from the Gallery’s own collection. The other two, which were originally owned by Courtauld but were sold on, have been reunited with the ones he kept on loan. Unlike another gallery in London currently showing a small exhibition featuring works by Vermeer and his contemporaries, with the paintings principally drawn from their own collection (no names mentioned, National Gallery!), there was no supplementary charge.

Almost three years ago we went to see the “blockbuster” retrospective exhibition of Gauguin’s work at the Tate Modern. It was an extremely comprehensive survey of his work and included loads of contextual information – letters, journals, sketchbooks and the like. But we found it was just too much to take in. It was a crush and felt like rush to get around and after three hours we were exhausted and unable to absorb any more, and didn’t have the time and energy to take everything in.

The Courtauld exhibition is quite different. There were only five paintings, a selection of prints, a sculpture and some contextual materials. It wasn’t crowded during our visit making it possible to stand, observe and contemplate the works properly without being rushed. It wasn’t a comprehensive survey of his work, but as they covered several periods of his life allowed the viewer to gain a good impression of his style and approach, particularly during his time in Tahiti.

The earliest painting in the exhibition is Martinique Landscape (1887), which is on loan from the Scottish National Gallery. It’s one a series of landscape paintings Gauguin produced in Martinique in 1887 during his first attempt to find a “primitive” tropical paradise before returning to France.

His next attempt to escape from the rat race involved staying in Brittany in the 1880s and 1890s where he produced a large number of paintings. One of them, Haymaking, is in the Courtauld collection.

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Haymaking (1889)

The final years of his life, from 1891, when he produced some of his best, and best known works, were spent in French Polynesia. He never returned. here are three paintings from this period in the exhibition, two from the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Te Rerioa (the dream)  from 1897 was acquired by Courtauld in 1929 on the recommendation of his friend, the artist Roger Fry, who saw the work in the gallery of the dealer Paul Rosenberg in Paris. He wrote an enthusiastic letter, urging Courtauld to buy “the masterpiece of Gauguin”. it features two seated women with a baby in a cradle looked over by a cat. I’m not sure why it was given that particular title. It doesn’t look very dreamlike – resembling an everyday domestic scene. But I’m sure there’s some symbolism there that I’m missing.

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Te Rerioa (1897)

My favourite painting in the exhibition, though,  is Nevermore, shown at the top of this post, which was purchased by Courtauld in 1927. A young naked woman is lying on a bed, a sinister raven is perched above her, and two malevolent female spirits plot behind her.

The third Polynesian painting on show is Bathers at Tahiti, the first of Gauguin’s works that Courtauld bought but which he later sold. It’s on loan from the Barber institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham. It was my lest favourite as it’s a rougher painting than the other two.

I also liked the series of ten wood cut prints, also from the Gallery’s collection, but not usually on show in the permanent exhibition. These are a couple of them.

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All in all a worthwhile little exhibition.  Even though I’d seen three of the paintings during my earlier visit it was good to be able to focus on them without being distracted by the works of other artists. It was refreshing to be able to look at them properly, without having to strain over someone’s shoulder. And the small number of works meant that I wasn’t overwhelmed and exhausted.

The Courtauld Gallery

After I’d been to see the Becoming Picasso exhibition, I took the opportunity to go round the gallery and look round the  Courtauld’s own collection. I had visited the gallery before, but that was over twenty years ago so it was a real treat to be able to look around.

The trouble with the big galleries in London is that they have so many paintings it is difficult to know where to start and looking round can be exhausting. But the Courtauld has a a relatively small collection – much more manageable and I felt I could stand and look at the pictures without feeling the need to rush on to something else like I often do when I have the rare opportunity to visit Tate Modern, The National Gallery etc..

Their collection includes works from the early Renaissance up to the 20th century, but is best known for it’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. It includes works by good range of artists – Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cézanne. They don’t have many pictures by each of them but the ones they do of are of very high quality.

Where do I start? Well some of the ones I particularly liked were  a Modigliani portrait of a woman – very typical of his work,

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a couple of Matisse Fauvists paintings and paintings by other Fauvists, a Patrick Heron abstract, an absolutely beautiful, simple, wooden Single Form by Barbara (similar to one displayed in Leeds City Art Gallery),

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Single form 1937 by Barbara Hepworth

a room full of Degas’, three beautiful Gauguin’s,

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Te Rerioa (The dream) 1897 Gauguin

a Van Gogh self-portrait (minus ear),

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Jane Avril by Lautrec, a Morisot, Manet’s Folies-Bergère

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère 1888 Édouard Manet

and a room full of outstanding Cezannes.

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The card players Paul Cézanne

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire (c. 1887) Paul Cézanne

And more.

I was breathless by the time I’d finished and went round again, at least once more! I don’t think I’ll be leaving it another 20 years before I pay another visit .

French Masterpieces at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek are currently holding an exhibition of their collection of French paintings from 1850 to the beginning of the 20th century in the Henning Larsen Wing of the Gallery. It’s a great, modern exhibition space with plain, light coloured walls which allow the visitor to focus on the paintings. The exhibition occupies all three floors.

There’s a considerable number of paintings, together with some sculptures and carvings, with all the well known names, and a few less well known, represented. Although the majority of the works on display are by the Impressionists and Post Impressionists, there’s also some by artists who came before the Impressionists, but who laid the way and influenced them, such as Courbet, Boudin and Delacroix. The works aren’t grouped by artist, date or style, which is an interesting approach by the curator and made a refreshing change. As it says on the Gallery’s website –

The new arrangement invites one to take a pleasurable stroll through one of the most radical and visionary periods in the history of painting

My one criticism is that there was limited information on the paintings, just the artist, title and date painted. There were guidebooks on sale in the shop – one on the Impressionist works and a second on the Post Impressionists. But the English version of the Impressionist book had sold out. I was hoping I’d be able to find out more from the Gallery’s website after our visit, but the information there is very limited, which is a pity. Fortunately photography was allowed, and I’d taken snaps of those works I particularly liked.

The collection is very comprehensive, but not overwhelming. We were able to walk around at our own pace without having to fight through crowds of people. And we weren’t exhausted at the end. The paintings are, perhaps, less well known than those in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London and MOMA in New York. But they are well worth seeing.

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The exhibition is being shown until 30 April 2013. Details here.