becoming van gogh

van gogh’s basket with six oranges

At the end of October, my husband attended a nerd conference in Denver, so I tagged along for a bit of a vacation and to see my family that lives in the area. While there I went to see the awesome Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

“Becoming Van Gogh” is really well done. The special exhibit, featuring more than 70 pieces from 60 different public and private collections, traces Van Gogh’s evolution as an artist during his 10-year career. I didn’t realize quite how brief of a time Van Gogh was active: He only decided to become an artist at age 27, after an unsatisfying start as a pastor and missionary to a working class mining community in rural Belgium. At 37, he died under mysterious circumstances, returning from painting in a wheat field with a gunshot wound. Though the internets claim that it’s “widely accepted” that he killed himself (despite the fact that a gun was never found), the exhibit suggested only that it might have been murder.

The exhibit included many of Van Gogh’s famous works — but alas not Starry Night. Since it’s probably Van Gogh’s iconic work and almost everyone recognizes it, I at first wasn’t that disappointed not to see it. However, I realized (and perhaps this should have been obvious) that there is nothing like seeing a painting in real life, especially Van Gogh’s. The picture of the painting above, for example, barely does justice to the overwhelming brightness of the whites, blues, and oranges in the painting itself. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

landscape under a stormy sky

van gogh’s landscape under a stormy sky

And now I know that what’s odd about this is that Van Gogh, early in his apprenticeship, did not employ color much at all; his early works can only be described as drab — the palette related to his choice of subject, everyday working folk, whom he desired both to realistically portray and to ennoble as sufferers of the human condition. The Potato Eaters, which was included in the exhibit, is a good example of this early work. It was only after he studied color theory and became obsessed with Japanese woodcuts that his paintings began to evidence the bright hues that would later become his signature. One of my favorites from the exhibit (besides Basket with Six Oranges above) was Landscape Under a Stormy Sky.

I started this post almost two months ago and only just have been able to finish it — and now the exhibit closes in less than a month, and it’s apparently not traveling (not that very many people would/would be able to travel just to see an art exhibit). However, if you can, it’s certainly worth the trip. (And buy your tickets ahead of time! I wasn’t sure what my schedule would be, so I didn’t do so, and visits were sold out through my stay: I had to wheedle my way in, and I was only barely able.)

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