The Royal Academy of Arts is presenting a landmark exhibition of the work of Vincent van Gogh, displaying the artist’s remarkable correspondence of over 35 original letters, rarely exhibited to the public due to their fragility, together with around 65 paintings and 30 drawings that express the principal themes to be found within the correspondence. The exhibition, which runs until 18th April, offers a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the complex mind of this artist. This is the first major Van Gogh exhibition in London for over forty years.
In addition to lending almost all the letters in the exhibition, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, has made available twelve important paintings. Other major lenders include the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, together with other museums and private collections worldwide.
Born in Groot-Zundert in the southern Netherlands in 1853, Van Gogh was the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor. In his early adult life, he worked for a firm of art-dealers in The Hague and London, before becoming a missionary worker. His career as an artist began only in 1880, when he was 27. During his ten-year artistic career, which his suicide cut tragically short in 1890, Van Gogh’s output was prodigious: largely self-taught, he produced over 800 paintings and 1,200 drawings.
Van Gogh was a compulsive and eloquent correspondent. The majority of his letters were written to his brother Theo, an art-dealer who supported Vincent throughout his difficult artistic career. Vincent also wrote to other family members, including his sister Willemien. Other artists, notably Anton van Rappard, Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, were also recipients of his letters.
The originality of his ideas about art, nature and literature, combined with his deep understanding of these subjects, make Van Gogh’s letters much more than a personal expression of feelings: they attain the status of great literature. In reading the letters one encounters not only a sensitive, determined and exceptionally hardworking man, but also someone possessed of a powerful intellect; this exhibition challenges the view that Van Gogh was an erratic genius by allowing the viewer a rare insight into his artistic process through the intimate medium of his correspondence. Together the letters create a ‘self-portrait’, and reveal the ways in which Van Gogh defined himself as an artist and as a human being.
The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters Exhibition, 23 January – 18 April, Main Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD. For more information and tickets, please visit: www.royalacademy.org.uk