Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum press release, 6 April 2005
This summer the Van Gogh Museum will present some of the finest drawings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). This representative survey of over one hundred of Van Gogh’s many drawings reveals the full extent of his remarkable talent as a draughtsman. The works have been brought together from public and private collections throughout the world with major loans from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The drawings are seldom displayed due to their sensitivity to light – some of them have not been shown in public for many years. Van Gogh’s best sheets of drawings, which illustrate his capacity for artistic innovation, are considered masterpieces in their own right. He himself regarded many of his drawings as works that could compare with his paintings.
When Van Gogh decided to become an artist in 1880, he devised his own programme of training. He realised that drawing was the foundation of painting and knew that he would have to work hard to become proficient in his new profession. A number of landscape drawings of the countryside around Etten, where he lived in the spring of 1881, show the skills that he quickly developed in the genre. The drawings that he subsequently made in The Hague are also dominated by experimentation: here Van Gogh tried out an array of – mainly black – drawing materials and attempted to master subjects such as perspective and anatomy. The characteristic robust style of drawing of his Dutch period gradually emerged in 1882. Apart from drawings in dark materials, he also produced some attractive watercolours that demonstrate his feeling for colour.
After a short stay in Drenthe, Van Gogh moved to Nuenen in December 1883. There he drew and painted the local weavers and the primitive conditions in which they lived. His draughtsmanship took on stunning new proportions with a series of seven magnificent landscape drawings in March and April 1884, five of which appear in the exhibition. They clearly show the artist’s remarkable gift for pen drawing. However, their lack of commercial appeal prompted him in the summer of 1885 to turn once again to figure studies, resulting in over fifty works depicting farmers toiling at their work. Although these were hardly more than exercises the series, including masterpieces such as Gleaner and Woodchopper, is of exceptional quality.
During his two-year stay in Paris Van Gogh focused mainly on refining his use of colour. It was not until 1887 that he produced a number of ambitious drawings, including urban views that reveal his attempt to apply his new skills to the world of draughtsmanship. His new, modern style can be seen in particular in a number of vivid watercolours that he painted in the summer of that year, reflecting the unmistakable influence of Japanese art.
Among the highlights of the show are the drawings produced at Arles where Van Gogh lived from February 1888. These include a series of highly successful landscape drawings in reed pen that culminated in the so-called second Montmajour series: six large views of the shimmering Provençal countryside. The entire series is featured in the exhibition so this is a unique chance to view one of the artist’s finest achievements. Van Gogh’s love of country life is reflected in another highlight of the exhibition. Four versions of The harvest, a watercolour, a painting and two copies in the form of pen drawings, illustrate the artistic process that characterises his work in Arles: an interplay between painting and drawing in which the artist explored the rhythm and cohesion of the composition in different media. Superb drawings of parks and gardens, urban views and portraits complete the survey of Van Gogh’s remarkable production in this Southern French town.
At Saint-Rémy, where he admitted himself in May 1889 to a sanatorium to recover from a form of epilepsy, Van Gogh’s style took another turn. The pen drawings he made here reveal him searching for a rhythmic, almost decorative style. He took motifs from the old garden and the surrounding area of the former convent. He also experimented with colour. For a group of brush drawings of the garden he used highly diluted oil paints in bright colours, and an astonishing, almost graphic style of drawing. The three famous views of the interior of the sanatorium, also drawn in oils, are all on display.
To present a complete survey of Van Gogh as a draughtsman, and not just the masterpieces, the show will at various points feature other aspects of his work. Van Gogh’s study books and drawing materials will be exhibited, as well as sketches and illustrations from his letters, showing how the artistic process developed. For the first time, Van Gogh’s four surviving sketchbooks will be exhibited together in Amsterdam.
A catalogue, published by the Van Gogh Museum (in collaboration with Mercatorfonds, Brussels), is available in three languages (English, Dutch and French) with text by Head of Collections Sjraar van Heugten, 200 pages, 170 colour illustrations. .A hardcover edition in English (Thames & Hudson), Dutch (Waanders Publishers), French (Mercatorfonds), German (Belser Verlag) and Italian (Linea d’ombra) is available at bookstores and at the museum shop. The paperback version is only available at the museum shop.
The exhibition is also accompanied by a catalogue entitled Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings, with contributions by Sjraar van Heugten, Colta Ives, Susan Alyson Stein and Marije Vellekoop, Metropolitan Museum of Art/Van Gogh Museum, 400 pages, 300 illustrations, published in English only (paperback). The hardcover version is distributed by Yale University Press.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (11 October-31 December 2005)