Today I went to an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria called Van Gogh and the four seasons. Tickets were moderately priced, the queue took over an hour, the audio guide was useless and it was incredibly crowded. Despite it all it has been the best experience I’ve ever had in an art gallery.
I met a girl in the queue who I thought was Portuguese but she was from Geelong. I saw her eyes light up looking at me but together I just felt we were jaded. We parted ways. A man cut in right near the front of the line but did it so smoothly I must not have felt to say anything. I regret that.
I was shocked that the paintings were just there, unprotected. I’m very grateful for that fact though. It felt intimate. They did seem utterly sublime. Well preserved too. I thought they were brooding but that was just the winter section. They all have a certain headiness to them though, despite being quite tame by today’s standards. Subtlety. Van Gogh’s soul. It takes a heady individual to take Impressionism and leap forward into something else, stroke by stroke.
Despite the crowded vibe the exhibition just got better and better. I looked at every painting. Slower than average but not super slow. It seemed the energy in the crowd improved with every successive painting. Never thought I’d see the day. True progress and the mandate of the arts. Everyone witnessing the same sublimity. Many trying to describe it properly. It’s a funny thing like that, visual art, the way it doesn’t cohere well with language in our soul. Or maybe it does for some people I don’t know.
It was too crowded for me to deeply understand the four seasons theme beyond a mere grouping of the paintings. Nor was I able to grasp the apparent Japanese influence. That’s ok. I’m glad someone tried to put it in a meaningful context. However the artist’s life was much darker than “and the four seasons” suggests.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), like most great Europeans of the past was born into an upper middle class family. With severe mental health issues, he only started painting in 1881, at the age of 28. In the next decade or so he would produce a remarkable 2,100 works. Averaging one work between every one and two days. An archetypal study in Mastery.
He was closest with his younger brother, Theo. As someone with a younger brother, I feel a lot of empathy for the man. It makes me feel what his family life was like.
He was bedevilled by depression and psychotic episodes. Despite this he ate poorly and drank excessively. This no doubt contributed to him infamously severing his own ear. His work was rather unappreciated during his lifetime and he lived in poverty. He shot himself in the chest with a pistol at age 37; dying two days later in his brother’s arms. He epitomises the tortured but genius artist.
He is said to be of the post-impressionist movement. His work is characterised by bold colours and expressive brushwork. He began to be appreciated after his death, as his work profoundly influenced the modern movement. This list has him ranked as the second greatest painter of all time.