The most fascinating thing about Vincent van Gogh may be that he produced approximately 900 paintings and over 1000 drawings in the last decade of his life. Vincent also wrote at least as many letters, many of them with sketches. Van Gogh, who was basically self-taught as an artist, died at age 37 of a self-inflicted gun wound.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston celebrates Van Gogh with the exhibit Vincent van Gogh: His Life in Art.
An introductory gallery has reproductions of his iconic works along with speakers hanging from the ceiling that offer directional sounds depicting the era van Gogh lived. One of the cones of sound recreates an argument between van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Said argument ended their friendship and was along the same timeline that Van Gogh rather infamously clipped off a piece of one of his ears.
Also related to the main exhibit is the companion display Van Gogh: Up Close, that offers a family friendly immersive environment filled with photo opportunities and interactive art activities.
The galleries are divided as follows: The Early Years (1853 – 1885); Paris (1886 – 1888); Arles (February 1888 though May 1889); Saint Remy (May 1889 – May 1890); and, Auvers sur Oise (May to July 1890).
There have been more movie biopics made about Van Gogh that any other great artists. Not including documentaries, how many films have been made about Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rodin or Freddie Mercury?
Consider this following list of films featuring a who’s-who list of talent over the ages.
- “Lust for Life,” directed by Vincent Minnelli, stars Kirk Douglas, is currently 102 years old, as the tortured artist. In his autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son,” Douglas recounts how John Wayne chided him after an early screening of the 1956 film, telling him, “We’ve got to play strong, tough characters. Not those weak queers.” Douglas responded: “I’m an actor. It’s all make-believe, John. You’re not really John Wayne, you know.”
- “Van Gogh” (1991), from French filmmaker Maurice Pialet, brought lead actor Jacques Dutronc the César Award for Best Actor. Dutronc himself was a pop song composer turned actor. The film chronicles the last two months of Van Gogh’s life and follows the scenario that most scholars accept, which is that Van Gogh committed suicide.
- The most recent Van Gogh biopic, from last year and already seemingly forgotten despite Willem Dafoe’s incredible lead performance that netted him an Oscar nom, is “At Eternity’s Gate.” Directed by Julian Schnabel, who is no stranger to painting, the film examines the last two years of Van Gogh’s life. A revisionist 2011 biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith makes a case that Van Gogh was shot by a teenager. As recently as 1960, a rusted gun was found in the field where Van Gogh shot himself. “At Eternity’s Gate” also uses experimental-style camera effects to mimic what Vincent sees. The Saint Remy gallery offers some of the paintings that Van Gogh completed during this time, including “The Garden of the Asylum at Saint-Rémy.”
- “Vincent and Theo” (1990), helmed by Robert Altman, delves into the personality of the two brothers. In the film, Theo is comfortable with materialism while Vincent, meanwhile, is invested in the plight of the working peasant. Tim Roth and Paul Rhys star.
- Akira Kurosawa’s second to last film, “Dreams” (1990), was an omnibus of dreams the director had experienced. One of the vignettes has Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh, and the audience has to wonder is it’s Kurosawa projecting his mentor status to Scorsese or Scorsese channeling the instincts of a struggling visionary who happens to be armed.
- “Loving Vincent” (2017) took years to complete, as the entire film consists of rotoscope-style film animated with a plush oil painting aesthetic. Voice talent includes Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd. The film’s plot revolves around an investigation into Van Gogh’s demise.
The MFAH will screen at least three of the above titles over the next two months, along with presenting lectures.
One of the paintings in the exhibit, “The Diggers,” depicts the art of Jean-Francois Millet, an early and strong influence on Van Gogh. From Van Gogh’s cousin, Anton Mauve, comes the composition, “Landscape with Cattle,” suggesting the pastoral approach that Van Gogh would eventually follow.
“The fragility of the pigments” guarantees that future Van Gogh exhibits anywhere in the world will be few.
Some of the Van Gogh masterpieces include an 1887 self-portrait consisting of oil on cardboard wherein the red pigment has already faded. Glass cases frame diary pages along with types of brushes that would’ve been found on the desk of a painter.
The exhibit is on display until June 27.