(Despite the government's madness, which has shut down almost all museums in the nation's capital, this private museum IS open.)
The Phillips -- one of the first in America to acquire a van Gogh painting -- is presenting the first exhibition to focus on what the artist termed his "repetitions", creating several versions of many portraits and landscapes.
This provides new insights into van Gogh (1853–1890), known for what he termed his "furies of painting" during his less than ten-year career. He created 70 works during the last 70 days of his life, which he ended by shooting himself in the chest at age 37. (More about this later.)
He made up to five repetitions of various subjects, and 13 examples are on view. They include five of his famed "L'Arlésienne" (The Woman from Arles), and three portraits of "The Postman Joseph Roulin", and several of his wife Madame Augustine Roulin rocking the cradle ("La Berceuse").
This intriguing theme of repetitions was sparked when Phillips chief curator Eliza Rathbone noted many similarities between the Phillips' "The Road Menders" and the Cleveland Museum of Art's "The Large Plane Trees". Shown together for the first time here, they begin the exhibit.
Eager to capture the late autumn yellowing leaves of "The Large Plane Trees", van Gogh painted them on patterned clothing fabric because he had no canvas.
"Filling one's canvas regardless...one catches the true and the essential," he wrote to his brother Theo. After Theo sent more canvas, Vincent created a more deliberate version of these sinuous, gnarled trees, the road workers, and townspeople. He described the second version ("The Road Menders") to Theo, "one orders one's brushstrokes in the direction of the objects -- certainly it's more harmonious and agreeable."
Whether painted hurriedly outdoors in Saint-Rémy, where he had committed himself to an asylum, or more thoughtfully in a studio there during the same two months in late 1889, both are masterpieces.
Even more than landscapes, "What impassions me most...is the portrait, the modern portrait," van Gogh wrote. This is especially clear in his portraits of the Roulin family.
In each variation, the artist succeeded in his goal of capturing what curator Rathbone termed "the essence of the individual, both the outward appearance and inward character." Several of Madame Roulin, who had just given birth 16 years after her firstborn child, go even further. They portray an "image of the mother as universal comforter...a modern icon," Rathbone noted.
Click here for her audio-video tour.
The exhibit has exceptional loans from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, including the best-known version of "L'Arlésienne", and "The Bedroom at Arles", among some 30 paintings and works on paper from 20 other renowned museums including New York's Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the two greatest collections of his works, the Netherlands' Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.
The show has many public events, like "Seeing Double", the "Phillips After 5" program on Nov. 7, where you can time travel with the popular PBS show "Dr. Who" to meet van Gogh; hunt for similarities in the "Repetitions" works; and enter a find-your-match contest to win prizes. If you have a twin, bring your sibling (and ID) for free admission.
Speaking of repetitions, van Gogh was repeatedly hospitalized for manic attacks in 1888, 1889, and 1890.
In the last 12 months of his life, he alternated between what he termed "dementia" and "prostration", followed by a period of "working like one actually possessed, more than ever I am in a dumb fury of work," according to "The Key to Genius: Manic-Depression and the Creative Life" by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, M.D.
Shortly before van Gogh shot himself, he wrote to Theo, "I feel--a failure. That's it as far as I'm concerned -- I feel that this is the destiny that I accept, that will never change."
This unique exhibit is destined to change the way you view van Gogh.
For more info and tickets: "Van Gogh Repetitions", The Phillips Collection, www.phillipscollection.org, 1600 21st Street, N.W. (at Q Street), Washington, D.C., 202-387-2151. Oct. 12-Jan. 26. Tickets (a dated and timed ticket is required). Public programs related to the exhibition, www.phillipscollection.org/events. Co-organized by The Phillips and The Cleveland Museum of Art, where it will be on view March 2 through May 26.