|The 1972 Vincent van Gogh Museum, |
Amsterdam, before expansion and
renovations in 1998-99.
|Vincent as portrayed by Kirk Douglas in|
the 1956 film, Lust for Life.
It's difficult to account for the popularity of Vincent van Gogh today. There are a lot of theories. His paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars. He's perhaps one of the most tragically romantic figures in the history of art, though the bit about cutting off his ear is grossly exaggerated (it was only his ear lobe). However he did live with a prostitute for a short time, threatened Gauguin with a razor, suffered from a (then) incurable mental illness, committed himself to an asylum, and later committed suicide. Even the barest outline of the facts of his life make for great historic fiction, such as Irving Stone's Lust for Life, and great material for a movie by the same name starring Kirk Douglas (right) as the deranged genius. But this alone cannot account for the love people have for this man and his work.
If his fame relied solely upon his brief, tragic, 37 years of existence, we would do the artist and his work a gross injustice. A van Gogh painting "sparkles" as the artist never could. It invites contemplation. It evokes awe. It soars above anything done by any other artist in the 19th century with the possible exception of Monet. Camille Pissarro, late in his long life, recognized van Gogh's genius. "I thought he would either go mad or leave all of us far behind. But I didn't know he would do both." The 72 paintings in the 1999 National Gallery show were family heirlooms. They all passed directly from Vincent, to his brother, Theo, then to Theo's wife, and later to his son, who founded the Van Gogh Museum in the 1920s. And while the authenticity of some of Van Gogh's work has been questioned from time to time (including his immortal The Sunflowers), the works in the National Gallery Show were not. And likewise, neither has the authenticity of Vincent van Gogh himself, the troubled painting genius who left "far behind" an entire generation of artists.
|The 1999 van Gogh Museum Exhibition Wing, Kisho Kurokawa, architect.|