Visiting Van Gogh

Last week, we visited another superb exhibition at the Victorian National Gallery in Melbourne. This is one of the regular art exhibitions organised by the Gallery of famous works from around the world. The last time we visited the Gallery was to see the David Hockney Exhibition.

This Van Gogh exhibition is about the life of Vincent Van Gogh through the seasons. He was very connected to nature with nearly 50 paintings and drawings (shown in this exhibition), that  depict significant places or activities in his life across all four seasons.  They were lent by a number of museums, mainly from Europe.

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Van Gogh made paintings and drawings depicting the different seasons throughout his career, although not necessarily as a series, and continued to link them to the life of his favourite subject –  peasants. He had a habit of studying nature and was skilled at  observing the smallest of changes within the landscape.

He continually suffered from some sort of seizures or crises, and in one of these attacks, in 1888, he cut off part, or possibly all, of his ear. Following that attack, he was admitted to a mental hospital in Arles. No one seems to be sure of a specific diagnosis of his illness. It may be that he suffered from epilepsy, bi-polar disorder, or perhaps some other disease resulting from lead poisoning or maybe Meniere’s disease.

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Our visit to the Gallery was timed during the second last week of this exhibition and the it was very busy. There was a long line for tickets but fortunately, Jill is a member of the Gallery Association, so we could queue jump and get in the express line which made things much faster. Once inside, we watched a summary of Van Gogh’s life in an auditorium with a giant screen, and from there, it was off to the various rooms in which his works were displayed.

I’m always fascinated at the different ways in which people observe paintings at a gallery like this. Some stand right up close and lengthilly examine every brush stroke in infinite detail. They  block everyone else from seeing anything. Others hover over the description to the side of the painting as if the words have some magical ability to enhance their understanding of the work. Some, like me, prefer just to stand back a little and view the picture in its entirety and see it in some overall context. My height certainly gives me an advantage here.

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Some people doubt that Australians are very cultured. A common joke by New Zealanders is to ask ‘What is the difference between an Australian and a pot of yoghurt?” Their answer, is is that the Yoghurt some has culture. It’s great that we are able to have access to this type of exhibition and occasionally get to enhance our ‘cultcha’ in Oz.

The Victorian National Gallery was founded in 1861 and opened in its current building in 1968. I clearly remember it being open around the time of our wedding in 1972 as my mates dunked me in the moat, at the front of the building, after my buck’s night on a rather cold August night.  One of its loved features has always been the ‘Water Window’ near the main entrance. I Understand that unfortunately, this is to be removed for the next few years as the government is building an underground train line under the road outside the gallery. They say the it is prudent to remove this window during construction in case the vibrations from the construction site damage it.

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3 comments

  1. Trina Bruce · ·

    It as an amazing exhibition, Melbourne friends of Bruce n Jill, it ends July 29th I think. Last year I was fortunate to be able to visit the Hospital Vincent spent 12months in at St Remy near Arles in Provence. You can still see the steeple in his “starry starry night’ and the beds of Iris he painted. His room is more or less as he occupied it. To be able to see these works is an absolute privilege

  2. Pamela Saunders · ·

    The different manner in which people appreciate, view and reflect on art in such exhibitions reflects the array of individual differences across human kind. Some are art students who need to examine details of technique, others are short and not with full sight, others want to broaden their knowledge and hence want to read the curator’s notes and others still just want to appreciate on their own. And then there are those who just photograph everything and spend little time looking at or appreciating the art itself at that moment.

    All behaviours are legitimate however annoying to any single one of us. I suppose this is one of the problems with highly popular block buster exhibitions in Australia. Crowds can irritate. Our being a nation far flung from the cultural centres of the rest of the world means we pay a little price in not being able to access great works easily except in travelling exhibitions.

    I personally found the curating of the current Van Gogh exhibition at the NGV different. excellent and educational on many levels and I am deeply appreciative of the NGV in negotiating such an opportunity for those in the Antipodes. The NGV continues to serve the public well. It boasts far more people entering its doors than people who attend football matches. Beware of sweeping out of date statements of the contemporary Australian society being cultureless.

  3. Daina · ·

    I took my daughter & two young grand daughters to see the exhibition also .
    I probably did all the things you said people do at an exhibition like this , although I had seen most of the works in Amsterdam & at the Koller Mueller last year .
    I was also fortunate to visit Van Gogh’s room , his gravesite and St Remy , Provence, a few years ago . On an earlier visit to St Remy , there was little acknowledgement of Van Gogh , only a few posters showing where he had painted local scenes ..eg The olive grove …The quarry . On our following more recent visit to the hospital , there was a large , well organised display , ” advertising ” Van Gogh and his accomplishments . Vincent Van Gogh , the man & the artist , have left an incredible effect on my life .