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Columbus Museum of Art exhibition uncovers Vincent van Gogh's creative process
Vincent van Gogh, The Wheatfield, 1888. Oil on canvas, Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Richard A. Cooke and Family in memory of Richard A. Cooke.

COLUMBUS, OH.- An exceptional gathering of works by Vincent van Gogh, in conversation with the artists and artworks that spoke to him the most, premiered at the Columbus Museum of Art this fall. Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources, on display Nov. 12, 2021, through Feb. 6, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio, assembles more than 140 works of art by the artists who influenced Van Gogh, affording museumgoers rare insight into what spurred the Dutch artist’s own visionary work. To fully grasp how Van Gogh processed these influences, audiences will experience 17 of the painter’s signature works firsthand, including “Tarascon Stagecoach” (1888), the still-life “Roses” (1890) and the landscapes “Les Vessenots in Auvers” (1890) and “Undergrowth with Two Figures” (1890).

Through Vincent’s Eyes is organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in partnership with the Columbus Museum of Art. In Columbus, the exhibition is co-curated by Steven Naifeh, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Van Gogh specialist, and David Stark, CMA’s chief curator emeritus. Naifeh loaned 61 works from the personal collection he shared with his co-author and late husband Gregory White Smith (together they wrote the 2011 best-selling biography “Van Gogh: The Life”). In California, the exhibition is curated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s Assistant Director and Chief Curator Eik Kahng.

“Through Vincent’s Eyes offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process and how an extraordinary painter like Van Gogh would have been observing and absorbing the cultural milieu around him,” said Nannette Maciejunes, CMA executive director and CEO. “The Museum is exceedingly grateful to Steven Naifeh, the late Gregory White Smith, and our partners and supporters for allowing us to bring together the works that inspired some of the most popular and beloved paintings in the world.”

The exhibition features significant works by Van Gogh’s acclaimed 19th-century contemporaries, including French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin (who, like his friend Van Gogh, achieved fame after his death), Katsushika Hokusai (whose woodblock prints were collected by Van Gogh), Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Utagawa Hiroshige, Édouard Manet, Jean-François Millet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The similarities and divergences between the artists’ approaches are explored through works such as Édouard Manet’s “Peonies” (1864-65), which in many ways resembles “Roses” (1890), a still life by Van Gogh painted with such heavy impasto that, according to one of the artist’s letters, it would take an entire month for the paint to dry. Manet’s work is the highlight of a section of the exhibition that includes flower paintings by Henri Fantin-Latour and Adolphe Monticelli, in addition to Van Gogh’s “Vase with Poppies” (1886). Digital X-ray analysis of the latter still life by Van Gogh has revealed what appears to be a self-portrait of the artist hidden beneath the surface layer of paint.

“This is an exhibition that helps make the artist’s imagination more tangible for us,” said Stark. “Van Gogh was a figure in art history known for the complicated, often troubled, path of his creative process. We gain access to another dimension of his art and life in this exhibition, another glimpse into what his world was like.”

The exhibition emphasizes Van Gogh’s robust appetite for literature and the fictional worlds of the modern novel. The installation includes early editions of beloved novels by Charles Dickens, Guy de Maupassant, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, to remind viewers of the books that impacted Van Gogh’s vision.

That impact is especially visible in Van Gogh’s painting “Tarascon Stagecoach” (1888), which embodies both Van’s Gogh’s ties to literary sources as well as his aesthetic debts to the artists he admired. This painting of stagecoaches parked in the southern French town of Tarascon was inspired by an 1872 novel by Alphonse Daudet. Visible in the canvas is Van Gogh’s emulation of Claude Monet’s vivid hues and Adolphe Monticelli’s heavily textured brushwork. The painting was part of a suite meant to decorate Van Gogh’s residence in Arles, France – the so-called Yellow House – in honor of the arrival of Paul Gauguin, who stayed only briefly.

Through Vincent’s Eyes presents works from more than 40 national and international public and private lenders, including the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Columbus venue also features Van Gogh paintings from three sister institutions in Ohio: the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art and Toledo Museum of Art.

“Greg Smith would be as honored as I am to see our collection form the basis of this extraordinary and insightful exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art, his beloved hometown institution,” said Naifeh. “He and I always looked forward to seeing works we own, by artists Van Gogh admired, hanging side by side with glorious works by Van Gogh himself.”

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