Van Gogh. I colori della vita

Padua, Centro San Gaetano
10 October 2020 - 11 April 2021

Sien and the Hague days.
Drawings and first paintings

Third section

When he arrived in the Hague in late December 1881, Van Gogh immediately went to the atelier of Anton Mauve, a famous painter and cousin on his mother's side, where he had already stayed twice in recent months. From January 1 1882, he rented rooms in Schenkweg, where he also set up a studio. Van Gogh was looking for "all possible scenes with figures – a market, the arrival of a boat, a group of people in line at the soup kitchen, in the waiting room of a station, at the hospital, at the pawnshop, groups talking in the street or walking. And it all depends on the same problems of light, shade, and perspective." He believed that studying was his main goal and that he had to make a great effort to capture the movement of figures.

He also did new illustrations, however, drawing inspiration from English prints to produce, for example, a series of lithographs on themes linked to the relationship between humankind and the land. In the Hague, he found exactly the model he was looking for: Sien Hoornik, a pregnant former prostitute, who became his partner, after they had met at the end of January. Sien, her mother, and her eldest daughter sat for him: "They also have good clothes. Black woolens and nicely shaped caps, and a pretty shawl.”

It is with certain marvelous, sorrowful portraits of Sien and her mother (on show in the exhibition), that the gallery of faces and figures from the almost two years spent in the Hague establish the coordinates of a world made of silent pain, quiet tears, misery, loneliness, and suffering in body and spirit. It was a question of giving meaning to the individuality of subjects, which Van Gogh always did right from his initial explorations.

His work reveals four specific early sources of inspiration: the artists of the Hague school, the artists of the Barbizon school, the old Dutch masters and woodcuts by contemporary artists, especially in Britain. He greatly admired the realism of the painters of the Hague school, based on moral leanings that inevitably met with his favor. He was in fact impressed by the tension that Isaac Israëls expressed in this sense, but also by the integrity of other artists, such as Mauve, Jacob Maris, and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch. In their obvious reference to the Barbizon painters, he felt the perfect conjunction with the concept of landscape, which he loved so much and found in the images of Millet, Corot, Dupré, Rousseau, and Daubigny, among others. Here nature was always veined with, often vespertine, melancholy, which perfectly suited his spirit. Van Gogh was very familiar with their works, for he had often seen them when working for Goupil in Paris.

Van Gogh also greatly valued the work of the British woodcut artists, whose images highlighted deeply affecting social themes. He saw those images in publications such as The Graphic and The Illustrated London News, which he could consult regularly. Van Gogh greatly admired Rembrandt as a religious painter and, in this sense, his predilection for the episode of the disciples at Emmaus is significant. What fascinated Van Gogh about Rembrandt was his handling of light, to achieve a highly symbolic, mysterious effect. He also appreciated the spontaneous masterly ease of Frans Hals's drawing and immensely admired the great seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters, who pioneered the genre, and especially Jacob van Ruisdael, Philips Koninck, and Jan van Goyen.

Van Gogh thus developed his vital vision of landscape following a line that went from Van Ruisdael to the Barbizon School and the Hague School. Featuring over twenty drawings and the early paintings from his Hague days, the third section is permeated with a spirit of intimate human attention.

exhibition curated by
Marco Goldin

Padua, Centro San Gaetano
10 October 2020 – 11 April 2021