The Real Van Gogh

Coming off at Piccadilly Circus, I made way down to the Royal Academy of Arts for the opening day of “The Real Van Gogh – The Artist and His Letters”. Foolishly, I tried my luck without a pre-booked ticket at noon, so for a word of warning for those going, you might experience some queues. Although I’m sure you’ll experience nothing like what I had that lasted up to an hour outside in the cold!

This exhibition sheds light upon the artist’s skill as a poetic writer and the importance of this recorded conversations with his brother Theo and avant-garde artists of the time such as Paul Gaugin.

Situated on the first floor, the exhibition is divided up entirely into seven rooms, each presenting a period of Van Gogh’s artistic career. These rooms are divided up by the following themes:

1 – Dutch Landscape

2 – The Peasant in Action

3.1 – Colour

3.2 – Japanese Prints

4.1 – Portraits

4.2 – Art and Literature

5 – Arles: The Revelation of the South

6 – Cycles of Nature

7 – The Late Landscapes

Each room features a set of letters, sketches and paintings, putting into context the importance of each of these forms of expression from Van Gogh as a whole with each other. What you are faced with in chronological order from the beginning is the importance of experimentation and devotion that Van Gogh put into mastering a variety of mediums, such as chalk, watercolour and pencil while studying devotedly to the correct application of proportions and perspective.

This recalls the quotes of “if one lacks knowledge, one will never give birth to meaning”, a motto that the artist lived by throughout his career as a self-taught artist.

What is proving a hot topic at the moment from this exhibition are the sketches that Van Gogh would produce. The impulsive attempts to record a specific moment on a variety of surfaces and papers that would differ in scale largely between pieces, depending on what he wanted to show Theo. Van Gogh was easily aggravated by the paraphernalia that was required to paint, the easil, canvas, paints, brushes etc. So what Van Gogh’s sketches offer are the working drawings, mechanisms of thought and practice that went into and towards the final image that he would eventually capture on canvas.

The fascination with his sketches is made with the partnered show pieces of his letters, both writing and drawing are closely allied and provide an unmediated form of output from the artist’s thoughts. As someone who has never really seen much of Van Gogh’s work in person, this exhibition offers an incredible scope of work and depth from his sketches and letters, only up close do you truly see the tones of green, pink and purple on the skin of his portraits and begin to appreciate the depth of colour that is used from his palette.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters Exhibition is on from the 23rd January to the 18th April 2010.

Wheat Field with White Cloud (From Saint-Remy)

Figure Sketch of a Peasant

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