“Van Gogh and Britain” : lecture and self-guided tour

From the announcement in the Spring newsletter:

This major exhibition brings together over 50 works by Vincent van Gogh to reveal how he was inspired by Britain and how he inspired British artists. Some of his most famous works will be brought together from around the world.

As a young man Van Gogh lived in London for several years. Although he did make sketches, he spent most of his time reading, walking the streets, and visiting London’s many art galleries. He was inspired by the art he saw and “fell in love with London” as he wrote in a letter to his brother Theo.

The ‘Van Gogh and Britain’ exhibition not only shows various masterpieces by Van Gogh, but also looks at the British artists who were inspired by him, including Francis Bacon, David Bomberg and the young Camden Town painters.

Please join us for a talk by a Tate Britain lecturer to learn more about this unique and highly anticipated exhibition followed by a self-guided tour. You can register by email and pay via internet banking (closing date: 22 April).

From the report in the Summer newsletter:

The visit to Tate Britain began with an excellent introductory talk by an American lecturer Dr James Hicks, who called the artist Vincent throughout his hour-long delivery, as he couldn’t manage the authentic vocalisation of Van Gogh. It was made clear that when, at the age of 20, Vincent arrived in London he came not as a would-be artist but to develop his skills as an art dealer as his family had connections with Goupil and the art world.

Unfortunately, Vincent failed to be successful as, instead of encouraging patrons to purchase whatever appealed to them, Vincent pointed out that various pieces were, in his opinion, flawed and his recommendations to buy other art actually dissuaded clients from making any acquisitions at all.

Whilst living in Stockwell and Oval, Vincent enjoyed solitary walks whether through Kensington Gardens or the city and travelled on the underground and rowed along The Thames. When later Vincent saw the Giuseppe de Nittis painting, ‘Victoria Embankment, London’, it sparked reminiscences of his daily crossing Westminster Bridge and seeing the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. In correspondence to Theo, Vincent commented that the de Nittis picture reminded him, “How much I loved London”. Another letter to Theo contained a small sketch of ‘Austin Friars Church, London’.

A gifted linguist, Vincent enjoyed reading English literature, especially Dickens’ “Hard Times” and George Eliot’s “Silas Marner”. Thomas Carlyle’s declaration “Blessed is he who has found his work” prompted Vincent to declare “that’s absolutely true”. Vincent read all Carlyle’s major works and owned two portrait prints of Carlyle, one by Helen Allingham, an artist whose work appeared in the London Illustrated News. Though the Graphics ‘Black and Whites’ of poverty, ‘At the Door of a House of Refuge’, and of ‘Prisoners exercising in Newgate Yard’ were depressing, Vincent collected over 30 copies of these prints including 17 by Gustav Dore. Reading Thomas Hood’s poem ‘Song of the Shirt’ prompted his pity for poor seamstresses such as Sien Hoornik though The Hague painting does not convey the depth of her desperate circumstances. Vincent wrote, “She had one foot in the grave when I met her”.

Though not initially aiming to be an artist, Vincent was studying the work of Constable and Millais and then the art of Meindert Hobbema and their impact is evident in his eventual output. As well as the National Gallery’s ‘Sunflowers’, the exhibition includes famous pieces from around the globe, notably ‘Shoes’, ‘Starry Night on the Rhone’ and ‘L’Arlesienne’, Marie Ginoux.

The aim of the Tate Britain exhibition however is also to convey the extent to which Vincent was to inspire British artists such as Francis Bacon, David Bomberg and the young Camden Town painters. In addition to their versions of sunflowers, trees and yellow houses, there are similarly influenced self-portraits of Gilman, Gore and Sickert.

On display at the Tate is Vincent’s 1889 ‘Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital’, loaned by the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. Vincent wrote of a prison of poverty and social prejudice, which had prevented him from being the artist he had wanted to be. His description of his life at the Saint-Paul Hospital echoed his painting of the Prison Courtyard. Moreover he wrote, “The prison was crushing me and Pere Peyron didn’t pay the slightest attention to it”.

The event took place on Friday 10 May at 11am.