With more than 35 original letters displayed with 65 paintings and 30 drawings, the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy, gives a closer look than ever before into the mind behind the sunflowers, the mutilated ear and ultimate suicide.
This is the first major exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh’s work to be displayed in London since 1968 and with 7 rooms the exhibition is easily worth a two-hour visit if not two visits. As the 120th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death approaches, visitors are able to gain an insight into the artist, who only sold one painting in his lifetime.
The letters, which are mainly to his art-dealer brother Theo, reveal a contemplative man who analysed his works at length and strived to capture detail and movement in his paintings and sketches.
Vincent died in July 1890 from self-inflicted gun shot wounds and Theo died six months later, supposedly suffering from the last stage of syphilis. Theo left these letters together with pictures to his wife, Johanna, who subsequently devoted herself to promoting the pictures.
Consumed with his work but less so with people, Vincent led a solitary existence, and his letters give snapshots of all aspects of his life from his feelings to his finances, lodgings, and his art.
The exhibition is a road to discovery about the artist. As well as learning that the artist struggled to capture movement in his early works, the letters also reveal his preference for portrait painting and a love and respect for Japanese art.
“All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” the artist wrote to his brother.
Despite being famous for his characteristic colourful brush strokes, his early work favoured grey tones, and when he used colour he often replicated his sketches, such as The Sower, 1988.
His art reflects his mindset and as his bouts of mental illness struck, (which was then thought to have been epilepsy), his work appears haunted, but free.
The exhibition ends with his most abstract paintings, which were done while in an Asylum at Saint-Remy, including the now infamous starry night, 1889.
The exhibition is open until 18 April.