Portrait of Joseph Roulin
oil on canvas, February-March 1889
Vincent Van Gogh
Kröller-Müeller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands
The National Gallery of Art just opened a new exhibit titled: Celebrating Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art that is only in Washington DC through September 7th. The exhibit, located in gallery 83, is comprised of Van Gogh paintings that have long been in the collection along with some new acquisitions. All the works on display are from the last three years of Van Gogh’s life. I found this very interesting because it looks like each was painted with the enthusiasm of a young man. Probably the most famous new acquisition work on display is the portrait of Joseph Roulin, Van Gogh’s neighbor and mailman when he lived in the southern French town of Arles. The NGA already had the painting Roulin’s Baby in its collection and this marks the first time that father and daughter have been displayed in the same exhibit. Excitingly, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait will be returning from loan and put up in this exhibit sometime in early July.
The first thing that I noticed in this exhibit is how different each work looks up close verses afar. Van Gogh’s fascination with strong colors is clear from both perspectives but the eye is drawn to different areas of the paintings depending how close I stood. When looking at them from a distance, I clearly saw what his subject was and to me they all looked much more like pictures in terms of accurately capturing an overall scene. However, as I moved closer I saw each individual brush stroke and the swirls he created with them. It amazes me that I could look at his techniques and only see pure impressionism while also, from a different perspective, clearly identify his painting’s subjects. One thing that really stood out to me was a recent acquisition: Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves. To me, the absolute beauty of this work was in its imperfection. The oranges were not displayed as perfect circles and some even looked like fruit a person would reject while going grocery shopping. The gloves had wrinkles and folds and looked more like someone had just thrown them down on the table when he decided to paint them. That’s what made this work beautiful to me: I felt I could walk into a person’s house today and see this image in real life. Combined with all the different subject matter on display, this celebration of Van Gogh is a must see as it captures so many moments of humanity. It would also be good to tie visiting this exhibit into seeing the NGA’s Degas/Cassatt exhibit as it allows you to compare relative contemporaries and the directions they took their art.