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“I’m going to lie in the sand in front of the roots of an old tree and draw them…”

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“I’m going to lie in the sand in front of the roots of an old tree and draw them…”

So wrote Vincent to his brother Theo and 40 results are exquisitely exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada. The canvasses of  trees, flowers, fruit, fields and one pair of boots, painted in five years in France, will go back to their homes in museums and private collections around the world on September 3rd.

There are versions of “Sunflowers” and a single “Iris”. There are “Dandelions” and “Pink Roses.”  There is a “Vase of Cornflowers and Poppies” composed of thick textured layers of paint creating a 3D effect with light, dark and cornflower blue, flashes of pink, white which is really grey and yellow and brown, and translucent swipes of poppy petals wafting down.

If we study Japanese art, then we see a man, undoubtedly wise, and a philosopher and intelligent, who spends his time – on what? – studying the distance from the earth to the moon?… no, he studies a single blade of grass.

– from a letter from Vincent to Theo, 1888

Vincent’s genius for composition was shaped by his passion for Japanese prints (he collected 400) along with the seven years he spent in a photography apprenticeship. Both are represented in side galleries, besides one on 19th Century drawings which provide context to his ground-breaking work.

It all comes together in the final masterpiece, done on a large scale to commemorate the birth of the painter’s nephew. I crouched down to have a better view and not block that of others. I was immediately rewarded: the shift in light illuminated not a flat background of sky but a stunning puzzle of blue brushstrokes swirling along with the twisting branches of “Almond Blossom.”

The crowds shuffling through on their timed tickets reveal their soaring spirits in the comment book at the end: “Amazing!” “Incredible!” “Merveilleuse!” There are not enough adjectives in either official language to express the beauty of being transported to the yellows of a sun-baked “Wheat Field with Sheaves” in Provence, of standing for a moment on the “Edge of a Wheat Field with Poppies” or of spying an unknown “Woman Walking in a Garden.”

Photos are not permitted and the dazzling colours and sweeps of the brush can never be captured on a poster. I bought one anyway, but if at all possible go see Van Gogh: Up Close.


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  1. Pingback: Schipol Stopover | Jill in Wonderland

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