|Vincent Van Gogh - A Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889 oil on canvas|
The National Gallery, London
Here's what may be less obvious: The title of the show, and its claim to being “the first exhibition devoted to the artist’s abiding exploration of nature in all its forms” are off the mark. Take, for example, the brilliant painting reproduced above. The sky and mountains are not wrought by human intervention, however personally interpreted by the painter, and the wind ruffling the many plants below that sky is all natural. But what about those plants, and that landscape they inhabit? This is not by any means a natural place. It is dominated by a cultivated wheatfield, cypresses, and olive trees that were, I'm fairly certain, planted by people, in a place that was most likely clear cut centuries before Vincent laid eyes on it. Is this nature?
|Giant Peacock Moth, 1889|
Chalk with pen and brush and ink on paper
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
|Hospital at Saint-Rémy, 1889|
oil on canvas, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The exhibition is also about history - Vincent's personal history, tidily summed up in wall texts that guide visitors through sections devoted to key locations and periods in the artist's career (Holland 1881-85; Paris 1886-88; Provence 1888-90; and Auvers 1890), and the history of his influences, with excellent examples of other artists' work, including a lovely Monet from the Clark's collection, works by Millet, and woodblock prints by Hiroshige (all considered major influences on Van Gogh).
|Undergrowth, 1887 oil on canvas Centraal Museum, Utrecht|
|Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890 oil on canvas|
National Gallery of Art, Washington
|Rain–Auvers, 1890 oil on canvas|
Amgueddfa Cymru—National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Whistler's MotherThe Clark is also showcasing one of the most famous American paintings of all time, through Sept. 27. Popularly known as "Whistler's Mother," James McNeill Whistler's monumental Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist's Mother) normally resides at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, but it is here on loan as part of a reciprocal arrangement from a recent European tour of some of The Clark's French masterpieces.
We recognize Whistler's own masterpiece from the countless reproductions, parodies, and ads that have borrowed the dour central figure, which experts have said is only incidentally part of this modern composition. The Clark has provided well thought-out accompaniment in the form of numerous fine lithos and etchings, as well as several examples of the painting's many pop-cultural takeoffs. Grab the trolley or take a stroll up to the Lunder Center at Stone Hill to enjoy the view and peruse the painting's "musical notions of harmony and balance."
|James McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1|
(Portrait of the Artist's Mother) 1871 oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay, Paris