Van Gogh. I colori della vita

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

Paris, my dear.
Van Gogh and modern art

Fifth section

Van Gogh's arrival in Paris meant he could pursue his desire to learn about the latest developments in modern art. And so be a representative of the art of his time, by evolving from the Dutch years. After all, the last months in Nuenen, particularly the landscapes of October and November 1885, had already marked a turning point in his use of color, which was now expressed through a different, more intense light medium.

Vincent was familiar with Paris and his desire to return had grown in Antwerp after receiving Theo's various letters, mainly on the subject of the Impressionists. Vincent confessed his ignorance about them but also his desire to learn. He had never seen an Impressionist painting first-hand before; the initial two Impressionist exhibitions, in 1874 and 1876, had taken place when he was not in the city. Ultimately, Paris could offer him the largest international sample of the best trends in contemporary art at that time.

In addition to improving his knowledge of styles, Paris, with its ateliers, could also become a training ground for making technical progress, by studying the trends of modernity. Van Gogh’s Parisian experience, which lasted exactly two years, developed along these two paths. It made him into a completely different person by February 1888, when he took a train out of Paris heading toward the light of the south, toward Provence, waiting for him almost like a garden of Eden.

Vincent's initial months in Paris were spent acclimatizing. The early landscapes, often painted in the area around Montmartre in spring and summer 1886, show no significant changes compared to the last autumn Nuenen landscapes. Except for the light: although not always, it became starker and sunnier, revealing an initial response to his life in a new stimulating setting. But he actually also did some works in darker, more traditional tones, still linked to the Barbizon School or the Hague artists, unlike the new paintings charged with stronger light. Fascinated for some time by Delacroix's theories of color, Van Gogh gradually understood the power of a lighter color range.

In the year that saw the birth of modern art in Van Gogh, 1887, he already produced some extraordinarily advanced works. In spring he resumed painting landscapes in the area from Montmartre to the Seine, near the bridges of Clichy and Asnières. The change of quality compared to the paintings made on the hills of Montmartre in the previous year is immediately perceptible. He began experimenting in a wholly personal way. Seurat had provided a possible new horizon, yet Van Gogh never made full use of his technique, the result of an almost aseptic, scientific approach. Instead, he preferred a variety of dots, then short marks alternated with long brushstrokes, so that in the end the effect verged on a vibrant flesh-like luminosity.

When he arrived in France, he had planned to train in traditional academic art. But in the event, he developed more through direct contact with avant-garde painters and the exploration of Japanese art, outside the official channels. Two years in Paris, however, had led him to a spiritual rejection of life in the city. In keeping with his well-known habit of alternating life in the city and in the country, the time had come to go elsewhere. On February 19, 1888, he thus set off for Arles, in search of a different light, the light of the south, but also to relish being in the country again.

exhibition curated by
Marco Goldin

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