Vincent van Gogh: The Learned Painter
The Van gogh exhibition at MUDEC, Museo delle Culture in Milan
Vincent van Gogh, the master of sunflowers, the painter of madness and loneliness, but also the self-taught artist with no great cultural ties – these stereotypes still shape the public image of the Dutch genius Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). All too often, the focus is on the tragic existence of the artist, rather than adequately acknowledging his true creative greatness.
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC, “Vincent van Gogh: The Educated Painter,” on view in Milan from September 21, 2023 to January 28, 2024, aims to challenge this stereotype of van Gogh. It introduces us to a Vincent van Gogh who seems less of an outsider and was surprisingly well informed about the cultural debates of his time: a passionate reader and collector of prints, a keen observer of contemporary art trends. His letters give vivid testimony to this: “Books, reality and art are one for me”.
Produced by 24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 ORE and supported by the City of Milan-Culture, the Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC is under the patronage of the Embassy and Consulate General of the Netherlands in Italy and was realized in collaboration with the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. The Kröller-Müller Museum has an extraordinary collection of paintings and drawings by the Dutch painter, surpassed only by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Some 40 of the works on display are from the Dutch museum, including outstanding masterpieces such as the head studies and figures for The Potato Eaters, drawings of seamstresses and chaff readers from the Dutch period, Moulin de la Galette, Self-Portrait, Interior of a Restaurant, Still Life with Figure and Books from the Paris years (1886-87), Orchard with Cypresses, View of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, The Green Vineyard, Portrait of Joseph-Michel Ginoux from the Arles period (1888-89), Landscape with Sheaves and Rising Moon, Sheaves under a Cloudy Sky, Pine Trees in the Hospital Garden, Olive Grove with Two Olive Pickers, Tree Trunks in the Green, The Ravine, painted during his hospital stay in Saint-Rémy (1889-90).
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC Milan presents a unique interpretation of van Gogh’s works, highlighting the connection between his painterly vision and the depth of his cultural interests. Two themes stand out: his passionate interest in books and his fascination with Japan, expressed in his love of Japanese woodblock prints.
A third important theme for the painter’s artistic development was the influence of Jean-François Millet, who for Vincent was a great master of art and life. Millet’s deeply religious view of nature served as a model for his decision to become a painter. The exhibition will be presented by Professor Francesco Poli, art historian, Mariella Guzzoni, researcher and curator of the exhibition “Van Gogh. Life with Books,” which runs throughout the exhibition, and Aurora Canepari, curator of the Museo d’Arte Orientale Edoardo Chiossone in Genoa and curator of the section “Van Gogh: The Japanese Dream. From Paris to Provence”.
Organized both chronologically and thematically, the Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC Milan offers a new reading of van Gogh’s works, highlighting in particular the relationship between his painterly vision and the depth of his cultural understanding. Two important themes are highlighted: his passionate interest in books and his fascination with Japan, expressed in his passion for collecting Japanese woodblock prints.
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC recounts Van Gogh’s artistic and intellectual life in chronological order. It is divided into four historically significant phases of his life: the beginnings from 1880 to 1885 in Borinage, The Hague and Nuenen, his stay in Paris from 1886 to 1887, his time in Arles from 1888 to 1889 and his admission to the Saint-Rémy hospital.
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC Milan presents the works of the Kröller-Müller Museum in dialogue with a careful selection of over thirty original editions of art books and magazines from the curator’s collection, presented in thematic vitrines along the exhibition’s tour.
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC
The first part of the Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC takes us to Van Gogh’s Dutch period, to the mists of northern Europe. This is where his artistic career began when he moved to the Borinage coalfield in Belgium in December 1878 to serve as a Lutheran preacher in the miners’ congregation. It was also during this period that his first ambitions as a painter emerged, and his first significant painting, “The Burden Bearers,” symbolizes the hard work and suffering of the poor and oppressed.
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC also shows how intensively van Gogh studied the Bible and how much contemporary writers who dealt with social issues, such as Michelet and Beecher Stowe, influenced his thinking.
Jean-François Millet played a decisive role in Van Gogh’s artistic development. In 1880-81 he spent much time in The Hague, where he admired Millet’s works at the Goupil & Cie art shop. Millet’s paintings of peasants at work and in nature deeply influenced Van Gogh and encouraged him to pursue his own artistic career. Van Gogh’s relationship with Millet was not only artistic, but also spiritual. He regarded Millet as a kind of spiritual guide and saw deep religious significance in his art.
Van Gogh’s Paris period (1886-1887) marks a crucial phase in his artistic development. Here he came into contact with the latest art movements and found inspiration in the works of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists such as Monet, Pissarro and Seurat. Attracted by the vibrant art scene of Montmartre, he created some of his best-known paintings, including “Café Terrace in the Evening” and “Starry Night.” The exhibition shows how intensively van Gogh studied the Paris art scene and how much the works of his contemporaries influenced him.
The time in Arles (1888-1889) was marked by great artistic productivity and inner turbulence. Here Van Gogh created some of his most famous works, including “Sunflowers”, “The Terrace at Night” and “The Yellow House”. The exhibition shows how Van Gogh’s love of nature and his desire to experience country life influenced his works during this period. It also shows his attempts to create an artist community in Arles where artists could live and work together.
Van Gogh’s last stage of life took him to the Saint-Rémy hospital, where he was admitted in 1889 after a collapse. Here he created some of his most haunting works, including “Starry Night” and “Olive Trees.” The exhibition shows how closely van Gogh’s mental health and his creative expression were linked during this period.
The legacy and influence of van Gogh on modern art
The Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC Milan ends with a look at van Gogh’s legacy and influence on modern art. On display are works by artists who were inspired by Van Gogh, including Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
“Vincent van Gogh: The Educated Painter” offers visitors the opportunity to discover the artist’s complex personality and deep cultural interests. The exhibition invites visitors to see van Gogh’s works with new eyes and explore the broad spectrum of his influences and inspirations. The exhibition shows that Van Gogh was not only a brilliant painter, but also an educated artist who combined in his art the wisdom of books and the fascination of the world around him.
“Vincent van Gogh: The Educated Painter” the unique Van Gogh exhibition at MUDEC Milan is a unique opportunity to discover the life and art of this great Dutch painter in a new and enlightening way.
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