On Wednesday, May 21st, I was fortunate enough to attend the Van Gogh Repetitions exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I have never been to the Cleveland art museum before, and it has always been a goal of mine to attend being an Ohio resident. My professor recommended attending the show, and Van Gogh is my favorite artist, so naturally I made a point to see it! Any chance I can get to see a Van Gogh original, I am going to take it. This was the first time I have ever seen an exhibit devoted entirely to his work, and it was wonderful.
My mother, artist MB Thompson Dowlin and I went together, both of us being artists & lovers of Vincent’s art.
35 paintings in total hung on the walls of the exhibit, displaying several copies or versions of different paintings Gogh created in his lifetime. The theme of the show, Repetitions, is a painting technique Van Gogh often used in his work, where he painted & repainted the same composition & subject matter several times, altering each canvas in varying measures. Research for this show included studying letters he wrote to his brother and technical analysis of each work.
My ticket to the show!
Along with the show, there was extra audio commentary provided, which proved to be very interesting and added to the written information by each painting. While viewing each grouping of paintings, I learned many details. This was the first time I was intrigued so much by an exhibit that I actually wanted to read all of the displayed information & listen to all commentary. Absorbing all of the information & contemplating each painting, it took us two entire hours to get through the exhibit! I wasn’t expecting it to be that long, especially since most of the works were replicas! Looking at the variations of each work was so interesting, and comparing & contrasting each piece helped me learn about Van Gogh’s practice.
Understandably, no photography was allowed in the exhibit, so I have no photographs of my own I could provide of the paintings, but I have included some of my favorite images from the show that are taken from a book. I have never seen the majority of this work before, and it was nice to see more breadth do Van Gogh’s work. There were some paintings that I never would have guessed he painted! The collection had a mixture of portraits and landscapes, which I liked very much.
Even though his repetitions had similar results, given further looks it is apparent that some works were quickly finished while others carefully considered and painted with greater care. “While casual observation of van Gogh’s paintings may suggest that repetitions are mere duplicates of the original, closer inspection reveals that a far more complex relationship often exists among the works in a repetition sequence.” william H. Robinson
Here is a closer look at a few of my favorite sets of repetitions:
Portrait of Joseph Roulin March 1889 “The Postman”
Van Gogh drew 3 drawings and 6 paintings of Roulin, who was his dear friend and drinking buddy. This set of paintings was the one I compared and contrasted the most. Each painting was very similar, almost identical in composition, but the style varied as well as the backgrounds. I was not crazy about the portrait with the flowers in the background, I felt that the simpler backgrounds made the facial features stand out, while the patterns in the background made the paintings too busy.
These etchings were so interesting to me. After taking an intaligo class, I have a much deeper appreciation for printmaking. I loved his details and linework used, especially in the facial features. Dr. Gachet was actually Gogh’s physician during his mental breakdown, and was the one that introduced Van Gogh to etching.
While at the museum, I wanted to sketch a little so I would have a Van Gogh inspired sketch to take home with me. Little did I know that not only was photography forbidden, but apparently sketching was as well! I got quite far with my sketch when a security guard came up to me & told me I had to stop! Oops! Here is an unfinished attempted museum sketch:
The Road Menders 1889
These paintings were one of the last ones I came across in the exhibit, and I stopped and stared for a very long time, studying the differences. Interesting fact, one of the paintings has a canvas that is made of red diamond fabric, because Van Gogh was impatient to wait for an actual canvas to be delivered. Upon closer inspection, I could see tiny little red diamonds scattered sporadically throughout the painting. Very slight, but they added an interesting, personal aesthetic to the painting. I love the atmosphere the compositions of these paintings convey, and the shapes of the tress are wonderful.
I thought I knew a lot about Van Gogh, but after attending this exhibition, I found out I was wrong. I never realized he made so many copies of his work, as though he was experimenting with different methods trying to achieve the perfect ideal image he wished to convey. Because he reproduced so much of his work, the likelihood of a Van Gogh painting being a fraud is very likely.
Interestingly enough, the show included 2 fake paintings, which at one time were believed to be original Van Goghs. I thought it was pretty easy to mistake one of them, but there was one that was very very different from Van Gogh’s colors & style, and titanium white was used in the painting, which was not around at his time. Apparently, fakes of Van Gogh appeared as early as 1901, and experts say there could be over 45 forgeries.
Overall, I was very impressed with the show, and glad that my Mom and I were able to make it up there in time before it closed! Definitely worth the long drive! The museum is absolutely stunning, and has a great permanent collection as well!