An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 140

Clinton Howell Antiques - August 9, 2021 - Issue 140

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

The Van Gogh Museum is located near the Rijksmuseum, behind it if you are coming from central Amsterdam. Van Gogh is arguably the best known artist in the world if only because of the sale of "Irises" at Sotheby's in 1987 when the auction house loaned the Aurstralian financier, Alan Bond, twenty seven million dollars which enabled his winning bid of nearly 54 million dollars. Of course, Van Gogh never benefitted from the sale of any of his art and that part of the story may be the most curious aspect of all, simply because his art is captivating. Certainly, not every Van Gogh painting is a masterpiece, but you do get a sense that you can see a mind at work and an emotional display of place and time that is extraordinary. When I started to take art courses at the age of 15, my favorite artists were rather predictable and Van Gogh was right at the top. Getting to the Van Gogh Museum was an emotional experience that took me back well over fifty years.

All museums have a problem with display--it isn't easy to display paintings in such a fashion where you can learn and see without a fair sized crowd around you wanting to do the very same thing. Using the earphones for the audio tour is not my pleasure, no mater how high tech they are simply because of my hearing aids and the fact that I like to have my eye guide me. You enter the Van Gogh Museum by going down to an open, but below ground level area, where you can get earphones and where the shop is--you then take an escalator up to the first section of the museum which is portraits. Van Gogh painted many self portraits and if you want to get involved in emotion, this is one place where you can truly feel the turmoil of the artist. He was clearly obsessive and his intense focus always seems like an effort to see beyond his face to show what was inside. I can't imagine what his life was like, particularly once I learned that he did seventy-five paintings in the last seventy days of his life. 

I was not aware that Van Gogh and Gauguin were friendly. Gauguin joined Van Gogh in Arles, but they did not agree on their approach to painting, Gauguin believing that you could paint anything you thought would work with a scene, whether it was there or not, and Van Gogh believing that you painted what was there and nothing else. I saw that expressed in a really wonderful painting that Van Gogh did of wheat--it was simple and not particularly representative of his work and yet he grasped the power of the green stalk and gave it and the awn of the grain a life that is palpable. And that is what Van Gogh seemed to be capable of doing--getting the life of what he was painting into that painting. His paintings take you into a world that unites subject and artist. It is, I have to say, what my favorite artists seem to be able to do and it hardly matters what a museum does in how it displays that art. Finally, I would like to say that because of Van Gogh's renown, his museum is swamped with visitors and that is inhibiting, if only because there are always logjams in front of certain paintings--notably sunflowers and the self portraits. I think, if I could alter anything, I would make the museum much more spacious so that the paintings and the lookers could all breathe more easily.