Countdown to Van Gogh

Each week until the opening of Van Gogh: Up Close, we will be revealing one work featured in the exhibition. Get up close with the masterpieces and learn the story behind the works.

01
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Poppy Field , 1890
Oil on canvas, 73 × 91.5 cm
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague

The red flowers and green stems in this painting recall the mille-fleurs backgrounds of medieval tapestries. Although this stunning composition references Impressionist paintings (Van Gogh thought that Claude Monet was the greatest landscape painter of his time), the artist has created a work that is uniquely of his own signature, with distinct renditions of perspective.


02
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
House at Auvers , 1890
Oil on canvas, 48.6 × 62.9 cm
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Acquired 1952

In other landscapes painted in Auvers, Van Gogh avoided such dizzying compositional effects, but House at Auvers was painted to bring the foreground fields close to the edge of the picture plane. The abrupt shift from mostly vertical to horizontal brushstrokes in the middle distance contributes to the effect of flatness in the composition.


03
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Wheat Field with Auvers in the Background , 1890
Oil on canvas, 44 × 51.5 cm
Collection of the Musées d'art et d'histoire, Geneva

In this work, Van Gogh has made use of diverse perspectival strategies to depict a scene from the midst of the harvest. Showing a transitional phase, some grain has been formed into piles while other stalks still need to be reaped. The experience of literally standing in the field is conveyed through rippling, abstracted brushwork.


04
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Field with Wheat Stacks , 1890
Oil on canvas, 50 × 100 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel

Van Gogh was extremely inspired by the vast fields surrounding the village of Auvers. In one of his very last paintings, he adapted his brushstrokes to best depict each object, from the rounded lines of the vegetation in the foreground to the v-shaped marks in the blue sky. The two large, highly-stylized stacks of wheat fill the painting like abandoned buildings.


05
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
View of Vessenots near Auvers , 1890
Oil on canvas, 55 × 65 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Photo © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Van Gogh found solace in the vast fields and countryside surrounding the town of Auvers. In this painting, the artist has depicted details of grasses and fields in the foreground leading to a group of cottages at the foot of softly rolling hills. The narrow colour range and the nervous, agitated brushstrokes following a repetitive, undulating rhythm are characteristic of the artist's work in his final period.


06
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Giant Peacock Moth, 1889
Oil on canvas, 33.5 × 24.5 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent van Gogh Foundation

Van Gogh found this rare night moth in the Saint-Rémy asylum garden. He initially made a drawing of the moth, painting this work later so that he would not have to kill the insect. Placed in the centre of the composition, the large moth is surrounded with leaves. The heavily-textured painting is almost abstract.


07
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Dandelions, 1889/90
Oil on canvas, 35.5 × 57 cm
KunstmuseumWinterthur
Presented by Dr. Herbert and Charlotte Wolfer-de Armas, 1973

In this "green meadow studded with dandelions," as Van Gogh described in a letter to his brother Theo, the play of contrast between the yellow flowers and the green tufts of grass is stunning. Van Gogh has focused in on a section of a meadow and has excluded the horizon line, giving us the impression of looking down while walking in a field.


08
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Blossoming Acacia Branches , 1890
Oil on canvas, 33 × 24 cm
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

With its heavily impastoed surface and visible splashes of bright colour, this Blossoming Acacia Branches anticipates Abstract Expressionism. One effect of Van Gogh's close focus on small segments of plant life – whether in the trees or on the ground – is a kind of blurring of vision. Paradoxically, it is harder for the viewer to perceive details, even when the artist narrows his view to just a few flowers.


09
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Long Grass with Butterflies , 1890
Oil on canvas, 64.5 × 80.7 cm
The National Gallery, London
Photo © The National Gallery, London

This work exemplifies perfectly Van Gogh's admiration for the Japanese artist's study of "a single blade of grass." He directs our view downward into the long grasses, butterflies and flowers below and before him. The clumps of grass are rendered in yellow, blue and green, with a spontaneous but articulate brushwork.


10
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Iris, 1890
Oil on thinned cardboard, mounted on canvas
62.2 × 48.3 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

This Iris from the National Gallery of Canada Collection is an iconic example of Van Gogh's fascination with nature, and is the inspiration behind this exhibition. The up-close depiction of a single blooming iris in a grassy garden was completed in Arles when the artist was near the height of his skills. The work is deliberately cropped and without a horizon, taking the still life to an entirely new level.


11
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Roses, 1889
Oil on canvas, 33 × 41.3 cm
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Matsukata Collection

These lovely roses, abundant in Provence, were growing in a corner of the Saint-Rémy asylum garden when Van Gogh painted them. The flowers' impasto style gives this small work a tactile quality, while balancing the composition of shrubs and grasses.


12
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Almond Blossom, 1890
Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 92 cm
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
(Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Flowering trees inspired Van Gogh, and this Almond Blossom from the Van Gogh Museum is one of his most famous works. Painted on the birth of the artist's nephew and namesake, the composition is unlike any other of Van Gogh's paintings. The dark outlines of the branches evoke Japanese prints, which Van Gogh admired.


13
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
View of Arles with Irises in the Foreground 1888
Oil on canvas, 54 × 65 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent van Gogh Foundation

Inspired by Japanese print, Van Gogh painted an extremely high horizon line and tilted the perspective to accentuate the contrast between the field and Arles in the distance. "A little town surrounded by countryside entirely covered in yellow and purple flowers. That would really be a Japanese dream, you know", he wrote to his brother Theo in May 1888.


14
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vineyards with a View of Auvers , 1890
Oil on canvas. 65.1 × 80.3 cm
Saint Louis Art Museum
Funds given by Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg (8:1953)

The soft rolling hills in the background of this canvas crown the village of Auvers and draw the eye into the distance. In contrast, Van Gogh adopted a close-up viewpoint for the flowers in the left foreground. He further emphasized the tension between near and far by employing dynamic brushwork in the grasses and vines, and a more structured, yet whimsical, paint style for the houses in the village.


15
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer , 1888
Oil on canvas, 64.2 × 53 cm
Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands
Photo © Stichting Kröller-Müller Museum

It is easy to get drawn into this large field of lavender. The long and regular lines of plants seem to dissolve in the immediate foreground in a profusion of flowers. Van Gogh may have deliberately created a close-up in the front of this canvas, and then used perspective and the long rows of flowers to move into the distance. He painted this scene when he visited this small town located south of Arles, on the Mediterranean coast.


16
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Farmhouse in Provence, 1888
Oil on canvas
46.1 × 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This painting gives us the impression of a sunny summer day in the fields of Provence. Van Gogh used a variety of brushstrokes, from the swirls of the sky to the blobs of flowers in the foreground, and the complementary colours red and green to enliven the composition.


17
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Wheat Field with Sheaves, 1888
Oil on canvas
55.2 × 66.7 cm
Honolulu Academy of Arts
Gift of Mrs. Richard A. Cooke and Family in memory of Richard A. Cooke, 1946

Part of Van Gogh's "Harvest" series made in Arles, this view features a harvested field with fresh cut sheaves in the foreground. The contrast of blue and yellow set against the receding fields and horizon line produces a highly decorative effect. It recalls the artist’s interest in Japanese aesthetics as well as his ideas about new ways of representing nature.


18
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Sheaves of Wheat, 1890
Oil on canvas
50.5 x 101 cm
Dallas Museum of Art
The Wendy and Emery Reves Foundation (1985.R.80)

For Van Gogh, sheaves were an important symbol of the countryside and the regular rhythm of the seasons and, particularly in Arles, were representative of the essence of summer. He depicted this field of golden wheat gathered together in freshly stacked sheaves in pale hues. One of Van Gogh's final works, it was completed weeks before the artist's death in July 1890.


19
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Tree Trunks in the Grass, 1890
Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Photo © Stichting Kröller-Müller Museum

Van Gogh painted Tree Trunks in the Grass as he gazed downward in a meadow strewn with white flowers. He completely eliminated the horizon line and replaced it with the path at the top of the canvas. The detailed tree bark in the foreground emphasizes the closeness of the artist to these trunks, as does his treatment of the yellow flowers.


20
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Gift of the Hanna Fund (1947.209)

Walking in Saint-Rémy in the fall of 1889, Van Gogh was impressed by the men repairing the pavement beneath immense plane trees. Rushing to paint the yellowing leaves on a simple piece of cloth he had on hand, he captured the vitality of the twisted branches in contrast with the static blocks of cement along the road.


21
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Undergrowth, 1887
Coll. Centraal Museum, Utrecht
On loan from Stichting Van Baaren Museum, 1980. Photo © Centraal Museum, Utrecht / Ernst Moritz

Exploring the outskirts of Paris, Van Gogh captured the profusion of greenery evoking the direct experience of and closeness to nature. The sun-filled lushness of the sous-bois and the spontaneous treatment of the subject show the influence of Impressionist techniques.


22
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Undergrowth with Two Figures, 1890
Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
Bequest of Mary E. Johnston
Image: The Bridgeman Art Library

Ever wanted to enter into a Van Gogh painting? This couple seems to have done just that, strolling in the undergrowth, among the grasses, the flowers, and the tall trees. The focus on the foreground, combined to the rhythmically receding rows of cut-off tree trunks, turn this composition into a structured canvas of startling modernity.


23
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Still Life with Quinces, 1887-88
Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden
Jürgen Karpinski / Art Resource, NY

This Still Life with Quinces is another beautiful yet unusual example of Van Gogh's development of the close-up. The artist painted the composition with distinct brushstroke in his favorite colour combination of yellow and blue. This sumptuous pile of golden quinces looks ripe to perfection and stands out in extraordinary detail against the cascading blue cloth.


24
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Sunflowers, 1887
Kunstmuseum Bern
Gift of Prof. Hans R. Hahnloser, Bern

Before he painted his famous series of sunflowers in a vase in Arles, Vincent van Gogh first experimented in Paris, pairing them by two and focusing on all their details. He removed the heavy seed heads from their natural context and used his brush and combination of colour in a spectacular way.


25
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Grapes, Lemons, Pears and Apples, 1887
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Kate L. Brewster (1945.215)

In this painting, Van Gogh focuses on his subject in a dramatic fashion. While this simple arrangement of fruits was likely set out on a table cloth, any reference to its original setting is diffused by the directional swirls of coloured brushstroke, giving the impression that the fruits are sitting in a basket.


26
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Basket of Apples, 1887
Saint Louis Art Museum
Gift of Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr.

Just a basket of apples? No. An important moment in Van Gogh's development of the close-up. Here Van Gogh has eliminated the table cloth and backdrop to depict this basket of apples in an undefined sea of colour using a feathery brushstroke.


27
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Fritillaries in a Copper Vase, 1887
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo to the Louvre, 1911
Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

Fritillaries in a Copper Vase, a magnificent work from the Musée d'Orsay, embodies the mastery of techniques that Van Gogh learned from the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists. The artist chose bright, complementary colours, and used a variety of brush strokes. He signed the canvas in the upper left corner, which suggests he deemed it worthy of sale.


28
Weeks
until
Opening
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Bowl with Zinnias and Other Flowers, 1886
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Photo © NGC

Drawn from the National Gallery of Canada Collection, Vase with Zinnias and Geraniums shows evidence of Van Gogh's transition to a lighter colour palette, coinciding with his arrival in Paris. A more vigorous brushstroke and thick application of paint, called impasto, give this still life a three dimensional relief.


Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Philadelphia Museum of Art