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Arts and Entertainment


'Van Gogh Repetitions' unfolds at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Multiple versions of same subject reveal Van Gogh's creative thinking
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
Van Gogh Repetitions offers a rare chance to examine two van Gogh versions side by side. Here is one from the Art Institute of Chicago and the other from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
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UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended through June 1.


A new exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art offers visitors a chance not just to enjoy works by Vincent van Gogh but to study them.

“Van Gogh Repetitions” brings 30 paintings by the Dutch impressionist from a half-dozen museums around the world and from private collections. But the unusual element is the side-by-side pairing of van Gogh’s paintings of the same subject. Curators say it offers a whole new understanding of the artist.
William Robinson explains the show

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The postman rings five times at the CMA show.  Why so many versions?  
Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin, April 1889. Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Oil on canvas; 65 x 54 cm. Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands 103.101.


The postman rings five times at the CMA show. Why so many versions? Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin, April 1889. Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Oil on canvas; 65 x 54 cm. Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands 103.101.

Two Poplars. One is Vincent van Gogh and one is fake that appeared about 15 years after his death.  Robinson explains why they display forgeries.


Two Poplars. One is Vincent van Gogh and one is fake that appeared about 15 years after his death. Robinson explains why they display forgeries.

(Click image for larger view.)

Our common understanding of Vincent van Gogh is that of a madman who painted in a wild frenzy with more emotion than foresight.

But the Cleveland show presents an artist who painted quickly from life and then made careful and deliberate second or third versions that he called “repetitions.”

This examination of van Gogh came about largely by accident. William Robinson, the Cleveland Museum of Art's curator of modern European art recalls that in 2005, a Van Gogh painting from the Phillips Collection was on display in Cleveland when staff noticed it was almost an exact copy of their own van Gogh painting, “The Large Plane Trees.”

“It was a mystery to us why. So we took them up to the lab and we started doing analysis. Why did he do this? How did he do it? Did he trace it?
"And that started us on our research project. We formed a couple of teams of curators and conservators. We went around the world. We’ve been looking at these at conservation labs, at the Met, the Museum of Modern Art, the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, everywhere.”  

A look at the research as well as the art
The show at the CMA displays some of the x-radiographs and infra-red photographs that researchers used to determine how the paintings were made. They made line drawings of subjects that illustrate the subjects are not exact copies and were not traced. 

But do repetitions lead to fakes?

Robinson says more study of the repetitions led to some paintings once thought to be fakes later being declared as original van Gogh’s. A new e-book, “Schuffenecker’s Sunflowers: And Other Van Gogh Forgeries,” argues that some famous paintings attributed to van Gogh are actually forgeries. Robinson writes off the arguments as speculation, although the CMA does include two forgeries for comparison.

So, why did Vincent van Gogh make different versions of his works? Robinson says it was not about making sales but about trying something different.

"The [van Gogh] letters are so helpful because he comments, he reflects back, and he’ll say at one point, ‘You know, I really like the first version better.’ Or he’ll comment on why he tried to achieve something differently with a second one.”

Robinson says there is a pattern in how van Gogh worked, but he doesn’t always follow it. The original versions, made from life, are generally painted very quickly with bold brushstrokes. Second versions, made in the studio, tend to have softer and more careful strokes.

In his second version of "The Large Plane Trees," he moved a lamppost to stand better positioned between a door and a window, as seen in “The Road Menders.”
It may not have been accurate to what he originally saw, but it makes for a better composition.

Van Gogh Repetitions offers 30 paintings so visitors can decide for themselves. The show runs through Sunday, May 25th.

FILMS at CMA 

Vincent & Theo

Sunday, April 6, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 9, 6:30 p.m.

This naturalistic look at the lives of Vincent and Theo van Gogh shows that both men were tormented individuals. The movie also examines the age-old tension between art and commerce. Directed by Robert Altman. With Tim Roth and Paul Rhys. (Netherlands/UK/France/Italy/Germany, 1990, 138 min.)

Lust for Life

Sunday, April 13, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 16, 6:30 p.m.

Van Gogh’s anguished personal and artistic life, and his brother’s attempts to help him, are vividly dramatized in this celebrated biopic that employs the painter’s vibrant colors. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. With Kirk Douglas, James Donald, and Anthony Quinn. As Paul Gauguin, Quinn won an Oscar. (USA, 1956, 122 min.)

Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh

Sunday, April 27, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 30, 7:00 p.m.

A nuanced, multifaceted portrait of ?mad? Vincent van Gogh emerges from this singular film, in which excerpts from Vincent’s many letters to his brother (read here by John Hurt) are paired with finished canvases and with shots of landscapes that the artist might have painted. ?The best film about a painter I have ever seen.? –Roger Ebert. Directed by Paul Cox. (Australia/Belgium, 1987, 99 min.)

 

Lectures and Gallery Talks: 


Faking Van Gogh

Wednesday, April 2, 7:00 p.m., Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation GalleryFree; timed exhibition ticket required. Advance registration recommended.

Curatorial Research Assistant Lucy Zimmerman discusses the history of Van Gogh forgeries and their complicated relationship to the artist’s repetitions, from the faked Van Goghs of Otto Wacker of the early 1900s, to suspicions about certain canvases raised by experts today.

Van Gogh and Madness: The Artist Versus the Legend

Wednesday, April 23, 7:00 p.m., Gartner Auditorium Free; reservations strongly recommended. Please remember that timed tickets are required for entry to the exhibition.

CMA Curator of Modern European Art William Robinson and CMA Senior Paintings Conservator Marcia Steele discuss the research conducted in preparation for the exhibition Van Gogh Repetitions and its potential for altering perceptions of this iconic artist. Recent discoveries obtained through scientific analysis of Van Gogh’s paintings shed new light on the artist’s working methods, stimulating reconsideration of the relationship between his artistic production and illness. The speakers explore the questions of what these studies tell us about conventional views of Van Gogh and the constructed myth of the modern artist.

Presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art Women’s Council.

Symposium - Reconsidering Van Gogh

Saturday, April 26, 12:30 p.m., Gartner Auditorium

Free; reservations strongly recommended. Please remember that timed tickets are required for entry to the exhibition.

Art historians and medical professionals offer new interpretations and insights into Van Gogh’s art and illness. Speakers include William Robinson, co-curator of the exhibition Van Gogh Repetitions; Cornelia Homburg, internationally renowned Van Gogh scholar and curator of three Van Gogh exhibitions; and Dr. Joseph Calabrese, chair and professor of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and director of the Bipolar Research Center, Mood Disorders Program, University Hospitals, Cleveland.

 
   

 
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