Vincent Van Gogh: Up Close: At the National Gallery of Canada

Queen's Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview
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Vincent Van Gogh: Up Close: At the National Gallery of Canada


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This summer's exhibition brings together for the first time a group of close-up views--still life works and landscapes--in which Van Gogh experimented with bold visual angles, decorative colour, daring cropping, and flattened perspective. These canvases--whether examining a budding iris, a patch of gross, or o ripened wheat field--are among the most groundbreaking and radical compositions in the artist's oeuvre. Van Gogh is usually described as on intense and impassioned painter, yet these works reveal a deliberate, purposeful approach to his art-making that defies common perception; they also highlight his grasp and knowledge of a wide range of visual sources.

Alongside the works by Van Gogh, the show features three galleries with Japanese prints, nineteenth-century photographs, and a selection of works on paper--from Old Masters to contemporary artists--that put the artist's complete production in broader context. In all, there are more than 100 pieces inspired by nature. The exhibit thus examines Van Gogh's radical approach to the close-up by placing it in the setting of both contemporary and historical references, including his use of photography--hitherto unrecognized--and his fascination with the Old Masters, as well as with Japanese art end culture.

Van Gogh's use of the close-up view had a very specific function in the artist's oeuvre. As with his ambitions in the genre of portraiture, for example, he strove to create a body of work with which to dazzle his contemporaries and make a lasting contribution to the art of his time.

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