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Friday, February 10, 2012

'Van Gogh' opens in Philadelphia, the only U.S. venue

Now through May 6, 2012.

Undergrowth with Two Figures, 1890. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 ‑ 1890. Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 39 1/4 inches (49.5 x 99.7 cm). Cincinnati Art Museum, Bequest of Mary E. Johnston

For art museums, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is a magnet, comparable to The Nutcracker for ballet companies. Expect thousands.
For anyone with the slightest interest in this most famous artist who died at age 37, the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition is absolutely “must see.” It stunningly illustrates how the mysterious painter changed the course of modern art.
The show focuses on van Gogh's last four years (1886-1890) beginning with his residency in Paris where he met impressionists whose works affected him so acutely, he changed his brushstrokes and moved to bold colors from the greys and somber hues of paintings he created in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Iris, 1889. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 ‑ 1890. Oil on thinned cardboard, mounted on canvas, 24 1/2 x 19 inches (62.2 x 48.3 cm). National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

In the first gallery visitors will certainly find a cure for the wintertime blues: Portraits of poppies, irises, roses, zinnias, and sunflowers in bright, happy colors are the theme. (After all, said the museum's senior curator, Joseph J. Rishel, van Gogh was a Dutchman who knew a lot about flowers.) 

From there, guests are introduced to the "Blades of Grass" gallery which focuses on the world under van Gogh's feet, and nature which comforted the artist amidst turmoil. (" always obliged to go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself," he wrote his sister in 1889.)

Rain, 1889. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 ‑ 1890. Oil on canvas, 28 7/8 x 36 3/8 inches (73.3 x 92.4 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny

Landscapes of Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers and their horizons figure prominently in another gallery, followed by hidden forests and sunlit dappled scenes.

Undergrowth, 1887. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 ‑ 1890. Oil on canvas, 13 x 18 1/8 inches (33 x 46 cm); Framed: 20 1/4 x 25 3/8 inches (51.5 x 64.5 cm). Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands

The infrequent inclusion of people are seen at a distance, none close enough to have facial features for they are not so important here.

One side gallery includes examples of prints from Japan, identical to the hundreds owned by van Gogh and his brother, Theo, pieces which influenced Vincent and show up in his paintings, including the last one in the show, Almond Blossom, created to celebrate the arrival of Theo's son, Vincent's namesake, born January 31, 1890, only a half year before his uncle died.
Philadelphia Museum of Art's Senior Curator of European Painting Before 1900, Joseph J. Rishel, in front of van Gogh's Almond Blossom (1890)/Patricia Leslie

It seems like the show includes more than 40 works, perhaps because of the smart layout.   Many are uncommon paintings, borrowed from private collectors and museums around the world: the Art Institute of Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, Basel, Carnegie Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Copenhagen, Dallas, Dresden, Geneva, Honolulu, London, Madrid, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musee d’Orsay, St. Louis Art Museum, Stockholm, The Hague, the National Gallery of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, Tokyo, Utrecht, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Zurich, the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the joint co-organizer of the five-year project, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Sun Life Financial and GlaxoSmithKline were major underwriters.

The press preview drew far more representatives than any recent press event, said museum director, Timothy Rub, which leads to expectations of greater than the 300,000 who came for the last van Gogh show at the museum about 10 years ago, and the one before that in the 1970s when 200,000 visited.

Philadelphia will be the season's national art destination, boasted Mr. Rub and Gail Harrity, museum president.
An audio tour included with the entry price expands the van Gogh experience, and movies about van Gogh and lectures complement the presentation on various dates. (Check the schedule here.)
It’s an easy and comfortable day trip to Philadelphia from Union Station on Amtrak (made more pleasant by a 15% van Gogh discount), and early train reservations reduce costs. (For those who have not traveled recently on Amtrak, there is plenty of leg room, no restrictions on taking food and beverages on board, free Wi-Fi, and the best benefit of all: no security checks, hassles, or long line waits.)
Amtrak stops at Philadelphia's 30th Street station where a short taxi ride of less than $10 can carry passengers to the museum. Hotel discount packages are available, too.

Go before crowds make viewing difficult. Or travel to Ottawa beginning May 25 through September 3 where the exhibition moves to the National Gallery of Canada.

A Pair of Shoes, 1887. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 ‑ 1890. oil on canvas, 12 7/8 x 16 5/16 inches (32.7 x 41.5 cm). The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection

What: Van Gogh Up Close

When: Now through May 6, 2012, every day except Monday (exceptions: February 20 and April 30), open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. – 8:45 p.m., Friday, and 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday beginning April 7 through May 6)

Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia 19130

Admission: $25 (adults); $22 (seniors; age not specified); $20 (students and youth, ages 13-18); $12 (children, 5-12); and under age 5 and members, no charge.

Getting there from Washington: Amtrak (please see above) or take a bus (not the Chinatown!), car, or plane

Tickets: 215-235-7469 (service charge added) or online
For more information:  215-763-8100 or

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