Van Gogh and Britain exhibition

From the announcement in the Winter Newsletter:

Tate Britain’s Van Gogh and Britain exhibition will present the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings in the UK for nearly a decade. Some of his most famous works will be brought together from around the world – including Shoes, Starry Night on the Rhône, L’Arlésienne, and two works he made while a patient at Saint-Paul Asylum, At Eternity’s Gate and Prisoners Exercising. These will be joined by the very rarely lent Sunflowers from London’s National Gallery.

Van Gogh lived in England as a young man for several crucial years. After completing his training in 1873 at the art dealers Goupil & Cie in The Hague, Van Gogh, at the age of 20, was transferred to the London branch at Southampton Street. He took lodgings in Stockwell and was happy for a while. He sketched but not so much as he read and walked the streets alone, dreaming of the future. He fell “in love with London” as he wrote in a letter to his brother Theo.

Van Gogh also visited many art galleries, like the Royal Academy and Dulwich Picture Gallery, and was inspired by the art he saw there, including paintings by Constable and Millais, which also will be featured in this exhibition. In addition, his favourite place to observe London was the once fashionable Rotten Row in Hyde Park, where Victorians went to be seen in fine clothes and on horseback. (See also book by Groenhart and Verlinden ‘Hoe ik van Londen houd: wandelen door het Londen van Vincent van Gogh’, 2013).

In 1875 he was transferred to the Paris branch, but became resentful of issues such as the degree to which the firm ‘commodified’ art and was dismissed a year later. In April of 1876 he returned to England to take unpaid work as supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate, but at the end of that same year he moved back to the Netherlands. Still those three years in England had a great influence on his early works.

This exhibition will also look at the British artists who were inspired by Van Gogh, including Francis Bacon, David Bomberg, and the young Camden Town painters. It will show how his vision set British artists on the road to modern art. Please join us for an exhibition lecture by a Tate Lecturer and self-guided visit to learn more about this unique exhibition.


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 Graphic’s ‘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 visit took place on Friday 10 May from 11am.