Van Gogh had an interesting life. His life was short and his career as an artist was even shorter. However, after his death, he was adored by many and even today he is still celebrated. Before entering the exhibition, I was a bit arrogant. I was standing in the cue and thinking, “Yep, I’ll know this, and I’ll know that”. But I was mistaken, and it felt good. My expectations for this exhibition were surpassed. For example, I learnt that Van Gogh truly appreciated British art, literature and culture. The artist would spend his days in England reading novels by Charles Dickens. I even discovered that Van Gogh was even inspired by Japanese Prints and this led him to produce pieces such as, “Hospital at Saint Remy” (painted 1889).
When I look back at my memoir on Van Gogh, it did not delve deeply into the artist’s life during his time in England. The exhibition does a beautiful job capturing this. In all 8 rooms, you would always see a Van Gogh piece, and next to it would be a British piece that either influenced him or he influenced. By the exhibition doing this, you could really see the impact of Van Gogh. Because Van Gogh was not properly trained as an artist, he did not attend any art schools at a young age. He only started to commit to art, at around the age of 30.
Additionally, what impressed me as an art historian, was how quickly Van Gogh learned from his contemporaries. This exhibition truly showed me the intelligence of Van Gogh. Throughout his life, Van Gogh merged all these different art styles he encountered and refined them. It was through doing this, Van Gogh made his own signature art style and it was ultimately how his work became iconic.
For someone who has constantly been told by friends, to go and see the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, this exhibition was a surreal experience. Room 8 was a special treat, it contained pieces such as, “Sunflowers” (painted 1888) and showcased films that pay homage to the artist. The three pieces by Francis Bacon at the exit of the gallery were also a nice treat.
I thought I knew the life of Vincent Van Gogh, but I was wrong. I truly thought I knew what the artist was feeling during his darkest moments, but I was wrong yet again. It is pieces such as, “The Prison Courtyard” (painted 1890) that taught me how lonely the artist felt during his time in Saint-Rémy.
People like Van Gogh are rare and if this exhibition has taught me something. Then it has taught me, that we as a society should give people their flowers while they are still alive, and we should not do so once death has passed.