The Tate’s much anticipated Van Gogh exhibition showcases some beautiful work but falls into a familiar trap, trying to put Britain at the heart of great artists’ work. He spent almost three years in Britain before he had begun experimenting in paint, and although he may have been inspired by popular novels of the time and art by the likes of Doré that were inspired by the dark, dirty, crowded capital, the connection to Van Gogh’s signature vibrant paintings is stretched beyond reason.
It was a pleasure to see some of his earlier, darker works and the progression to his distinct style and remarkable use of colour. For years he had obsessed over painting working class subjects in mining villages and elsewhere. He walked remarkably long distances and often chose to live close to destitution. You won’t see much of his difficult, obsessive personal life in this exhibition however, where a concerted effort seems to have been made to avoid bringing in too many biographical details.
Starry Night Over the Rhone, lent by the Musée d’Orsay, is luminous, a painting one could happily stare at for hours, reproductions do not do it justice. Aside from the showstoppers lent by other museums and galleries there are also some beautiful examples from private collections. Although the main focus is Van Gogh there are many works displayed from other artists, Millais’ Chill October being a standout.
An interesting exhibition albeit with some areas that feel like filler content. The Tate has attempted to show how Van Gogh was inspired by Britain and then goes full circle by demonstrating his influence on British artists that followed. The framing may be weak but it is nonetheless worth it to experience the mesmerizing effect his works have on viewers.
Van Gogh and Britain is at the Tate Britain until 11th August 2019.