Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum already has one of the most diverse displays of original paintings by Vincent Van Gough in Southern California. Now through March 4, the museum is also featuring a rare Van Gough self-portrait from 1889 on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. On Saturday, February 2, art historian Judy Sund presented an overview of Van Gough’s career to enhance appreciation of the Van Gough display.
While Vincent Van Gough’s career as an artist was just a brief ten years, he painted quickly and intensely. The artist completed over 900 original oil paintings in his distinctive “stroke of genius” style, as well as over one-thousand drawings. As Professor Sund explained, his choice of subjects was often based on proximity. During this period, Van Gough moved from the Dutch capital of the Hauge to rural Southern Holland to the art metropole of Paris, and then to Provence in the South of France. Each new location provided new inspiration.
While Vincent Van Gough is closely associated with the vibrant sunflowers and irises he painted, his early works reflect styles of other Dutch artists during the late nineteenth Century. These combined realism with a brush of technology to emphasize contrasts in light and portray the melancholic dimness that is characteristic of Holland much of the year. On of these early Van Gough’s “The Back Garden” painted in the Hauge, is on display in the permanent collection of the Norton Simon. It is similar to the scenes of rural Holland Van Gough painted the following two years.
Vincent Van Gough’s sojourn in Paris was enlivened by his interaction with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin and many other artists of the era and their mutual fascination with experimentation. Vincent Van Gough lived together with his brother Theo, an art gallery representative, broadening his perspectives on art. Vincent Van Gough himself had been an intern and assistant at an art gallery himself before deciding to pursue his true passion as a working artist. The popular impressionist styles of the period were reflected in Van Gough’s artists’ palette, a celebration of color that left the dim hues of rural Holland on the Dutch side of the border. One of Van Gough’s later works, “The Mulberry Tree” from 1889, highlights the evolution of this style. It is also on display in the permanent collection of the Norton Simon.
Vincent Van Gough painted three dozen self portraits. The styles vary markedly because the artist used this genre to experiment with different paints, brushstrokes and compositional techniques. Many feature his pipe. Vincent Van Gough liked to smoke for relaxation and contemplation. Many compositions by both Van Gough and other artists of this era paid homage to the pipe as a symbol of the bohemian lifestyle.
Another important element of later Van Gough paintings is the artist’s admiration for the style of Japanese woodblock prints. One of his self portraits even shows an idealized version of a Japanese woodblock print hanging on the wall of Van Gough’s dream home. Flowering trees and iris gardens reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints took on a new dimension when Van Gough applied his trademark sculpted oil paint and cursive backgrounds.
The Norton Simon Museum will feature another program about Vincent Van Gough while his self-portrait is still on display. On march 2, Ann Hoenigswald, Senior Conservator of Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, will share details about the paints, brushes and artists materials that Van Gough used. His correspondence on the subject and purchase orders have been carefully preserved by art historians and provide a rare insight into the details of creating art that endures for centuries.