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Mons, the European Capital of Culture, opens exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh
A woman passes by the painting called "The Sower - Le Semeur - De Zaaier" in the exhibition "Van Gogh in de Borinage", in the BAM museum in Mons, on January 22, 2015, ahead of this weekend's kickoff of 'Mons 2015 European Capital of Culture' in Mons. Mons’ year of celebrations to mark its status as joint Capital of Culture with Pilsen in the Czech Republic, will be launched on January 24, 2015, involving some 300 events, ranging from a major Dutch painter Van Gogh (1853-1890) exhibition to a maze of 8,000 sunflowers. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / BENOIT DOPPAGNE.


MONS.- In 2015, Mons, the European Capital of Culture, is host to one of the greatest painters of all time. In 2015, Vincent van Gogh is in Mons. Or rather, he is returning there. Because it was in the Borinage that the great man changed career, from preacher to artist. It was in the Borinage that he spent a watershed period in his life and in his art. The steps he took at that time were, and remain still, essential elements that need to be understood.

In addition to the major exhibition scheduled at BAM between January and May 2015, three large scale projects related to Van Gogh are now being finalised. On the one hand, two renovations: that of the house where he lived in Colfontaine, where he absorbed so many aspects of the lives of miners, and wrote such seminal letters; and that of the house at Cuesmes where he started drawing and discovered his artistic dimension. This house has been redeveloped and its layout redesigned. On the other hand, the restoration of Vincente Minnelli’s film, with supporting archives and testimonies, which, in 1955, told the story of Van Gogh’s time in the Borinage on screens all over the world.

A critical and little-known period in the life of one of the greatest painters of all time
During his life in the Borinage, from December 1878 to October 1880, Vincent van Gogh renounced his career as an evangelist and decided to become an artist. The exhibition will take you through the discovery of this period in particular, which had a profound impact on the painter, because during his time in the mining area, he developed the artistic ideas that largely constituted the framework for his oeuvre. With some seventy paintings, drawings and letters by Van Gogh, the exhibition will offer a broad spectrum of his different inspirations, also including over twenty works that the artist copied or which influenced his work. This will not merely be a presentation of an insight into the early stages of his artistic career, but also the construction of a portrait of the living conditions in the Borinage at the time.

The themes in the oeuvre of Van Gogh were formed in the Borinage
Amongst the works created at the time, generally copies inspired by engravings by other artists, as well as those made later in Brussels (between October 1880 and April 1881), few have been preserved. The value of the first months of Van Gogh’s artistic career, which were decisive for the entirety of his oeuvre, does not lie so much in his output at the time, but in the direction he took at that point: more personal, focused on themes to which he was to remain loyal throughout his career. Thus, the daily reality of the lives of the workers and peasants never ceased to fascinate him, not only through the admiration he had for painters such as Léon Lhermitte, Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet, but also through the experience of the difficult living conditions that he shared with the miners of the Borinage.

These themes, which he was already pursuing when he was staying in this region, are like an echo that resonates in his later work: simple workers, the modest homes in which they lived, and also the weavers, whom he observed with great admiration in March 1880, but only immortalised later, in 1883/1884, when he encountered a large number of them in the town of Nuenen, where he lived shortly afterwards. Between 1889 and 1890, he returned to his initial years as an artist, again making copies: in Saint-Rémy where he revisited the works of artists that he admired, but this time, he demonstrated his genius in painting rather than in drawing; and in Auvers-sur-Oise where he drew his inspiration from examples of studies that he had already copied in the first months of his artistic career.

“The Mons 2015 Van Gogh in the Borinage exhibition will retrace a unique period and reveal woks by the artist that are very rarely exhibited. It will enable the European Capital of Culture to mark the opening of its period of designation in a beautiful way”, concludes Yves Vasseur, general commissioner of the Mons 2015 Foundation.







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January 26, 2015

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