Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Paintersby Museyon Guides
Van Gogh, Munch, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and Goya are five iconic European artists whose inspirational works have been obsessed over by art lovers and travelers for years. To see masterpieces such as Starry Night and The Scream up close is awe-inspiring, but this guide offers true devotees even more. The book provides detailed walking tours of Van/i>/i>
Van Gogh, Munch, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and Goya are five iconic European artists whose inspirational works have been obsessed over by art lovers and travelers for years. To see masterpieces such as Starry Night and The Scream up close is awe-inspiring, but this guide offers true devotees even more. The book provides detailed walking tours of Van Gogh’s Arles, France; Munch’s Oslo, Norway; Vermeer’s Delft, Netherlands; Caravaggio’s Rome, Italy; and Goya’s Madrid, Spain; as well as meticulously researched articles on the artists’ lives. It is packed with useful sidebars, suggested itineraries, museum locations, and an extended index of artwork, and features color photographs of more than 150 paintings.
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Art + Travel
By Museyon Inc.
Museyon, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Museyon Inc.
All rights reserved.
VAN GOGH and Arle
In a career that lasted only 10 years, Dutch-born Vincent Van Gogh created some of the best-loved paintings in modern art. Many of his most dazzling canvases were completed in the year he spent in Arles, a sunny village in the south of France. Exhausted by his hard-drinking, hard-living days in Paris, he was hoping to create an idyllic artists' community in Arles. The first, and only, artist to join him there was Paul Gauguin and the plan ended badly for both their friendship and Van Gogh's left ear. Van Gogh produced an amazing amount of inspired work in Arles, including what may be the only painting he was able to sell in his brief career. Yet his struggle with mental illness proved too much for him and he took his own life at 37.
BY KRISTIN HOHENADEL
The light changes palpably on a high-speed train heading south from Paris to Provence. The landscape brightens, fields of sunflowers rush by, and a sense of déjà vu sets in as a 3-D rendering of Vincent Van Gogh's vision of southern France materializes in all its vivid poetry.
In February of 1888, the Dutch artist boarded a train to make this same journey, fleeing gray Paris to seek out the shock of Provençal color and light. But before he painted the now-iconic images of sunflowers and wheat fields and nights lit with stars that flame like miniature suns, the 35-year-old Dutchman found himself snowed in for three weeks of uncharacteristically wintry Provençal weather. Legend has it that Arles was just a stop on a journey to Marseille to meet the painter Adolphe Monticelli, whose work he greatly admired. Van Gogh ended up staying for 15 months in Arles, a pretty, scrappy town in Camargue, with its Roman ruins and bullfighters, soldiers, and women in Arlesian costume.
Marooned for those first few weeks in his room at the restaurant/hotel Carrel, he painted the view from its window and the woman at the front desk. The wintry landscapes reminded him of the Japanese prints he so admired. In the spring, the artist moved to a yellow house on the Place Lamartine; he dreamed of turning it into an artists' compound and embarked on a period of frenzied productivity — he made some 300 paintings and drawings here — and unprecedented madness.
At that point in his life, nobody could have predicted that the then-obscure Van Gogh was at work on the handful of paintings, now scattered around the world, that would earn him posthumous status as one of the world's most celebrated, influential, and high-grossing artists. Especially not the people of Arles, who, when they noticed him at all, saw what looked like an unwashed, half-starved, perpetually drunk, redheaded, raving-mad foreigner. They never imagined they had a genius in their midst.
The story of Van Gogh has always been irresistible from a human perspective, because the man died penniless (having sold exactly one painting), taking his own life in a fit of despair in July 1890, at the age of 37. Born in Holland in 1853, he was the son of a pastor and was drawn from an early age to religion and art. He tried and failed to become a man of God like his father and an art dealer like his uncle, dabbling as a bookseller and English teacher along the way. Eccentric, sensitive, off-puttingly intense, and unlucky in love, he seemed to be constantly rejected by the world. At the age of 27, largely inspired by the socially conscious work of Jean-François Millet, he decided to become a painter. In 1886 he went to Paris, where his younger brother, Theo, an art dealer, introduced him to the Impressionists, encouraged him to paint, and funded his trip to Arles.
In August 1888, Van Gogh embarked on this series of sunflowers as decoration for the guest room for Paul Gauguin in the Yellow House. Each painting became increasingly brighter, culminating with the fourth canvas, currently at the National Gallery in London. Here a bright yellow background replaces the blue of the previous versions. Three repetitions of the third and fourth versions were painted the following winter.
The Arles Sunflowers are so closely tied to Van Gogh that they have become among the most valuable canvases ever painted. A repetition of the fourth version (yellow background) sent shockwaves through the art market in 1987, when it sold for nearly $40 million at auction — more than quadruple the previous record. It didn't hold long though, another Van Gogh was sold shortly thereafter for over $50 million.
In Arles, the late-blooming, self-taught artist, who had now absorbed the lessons of the Impressionists and the pointillism of Seurat, experimented with his own Post-Impressionist style. His developing Expressionist technique rendered ordinary things — a vase of sunflowers, his own bedroom in Arles — in intense colors and muscular brushstrokes that distorted the ordinary, transforming it with a heightened emotion that both reflected the sentiment of the artist and stirred deep feeling in the spectator. His earlier work had been somber and grim (like The Potato Eaters (1885), which was based on his time spent evangelizing among poor Belgian miners, and which many consider his first great work of art). But in Arles he finally found the light, what he described in a letter to Theo as "the high yellow note." (Some historians have suggested that his obsession with yellow may have come not only from the light of the south but from chemicals firing in his brain high on too much absinthe, which caused him to hallucinate and is thought to produce a sort of yellow vision when taken to excess.)
March 30, 1853 Vincent Van Gogh is born in Zundert, The Netherlands
July 1869 Begins an apprenticeship with global art dealers Goupil & Cie
August 1872 Works at The Hague branch and begins correspondence with his brother Theo
June 1873 Moves to the London Goupil & Cie branch
1874 Transfers to Paris for three months and then heads back to England
May 1875 Travels to Paris again and is inspired by art he sees there
March 1876 Dismissed from Goupil & Cie, decides to become a clergyman and returns to England to teach
1877 Moves to Amsterdam and attempts to enroll in theology school
December 1878 Gives up his studies and then heads to Borinage, a coal-mining district near Brussels, to work as a preacher
YOUNG ARTIST 1880–1885
1880 Van Gogh decides to become an artist and moves to Brussels
1881 Takes painting lessons from his cousin Anton Mauve, a member of the Hague School
March 26, 1885 Van Gogh's father dies; he completes The Potato Eaters
January 1886 Enrolls in Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp for training, but grows impatient and withdraws two months later
February 27, 1886 Van Gogh arrives in Paris
1886 Theo introduces Van Gogh to the works of Claude Monet and the Impressionists
Van Gogh studies with Fernand Cormon
Meets and befriends Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Émile Bernard, Camille Pissarro and John Russell
Perfects his skills in self-portraits and experiments in color
1887 Organizes a group show of his and his friends' paintings at a Paris restaurant
February 19, 1888 Van Gogh boards a train for Provence and gets off at Arles
1888 Rents the Yellow House, hopes to establish artist colony, and invites Gauguin to join him (he paints Sunflowers in anticipation of his arrival)
October 1888 Gauguin arrives and remains for nine weeks
December 1888 Tensions between Van Gogh and Gauguin hit a breaking point
Van Gogh cuts off his left earlobe, is admitted to the hospital, and remains there until January 1889
May 1889 Van Gogh voluntarily commits himself into a psychiatric hospital and converts his cell into a studio
1890 Creates masterpieces Irises, Cypresses, and Starry Night and sends them to Theo in Paris
July 27, 1890 Van Gogh walks into a wheat field and shoots himself. He staggers back to his room, where two days later, on July 29, he dies with Theo at his side
Van Gogh never achieved his vision of establishing an artists' commune at the Yellow House, a wish he articulated to Theo in a letter: "If I could find another painter inclined to work in the South, and who, like myself, would be sufficiently absorbed in his work to be able to resign himself to living like a monk who goes to the brothel once a fortnight — who for the rest is tied up in his work, and not very willing to waste his time — it might be a good job. Being all alone, I am suffering a little under this isolation."
He painted those ubiquitous sunflowers — reproductions of which now hang on the walls of bedrooms the world over — to decorate his guest room for Gauguin, who joined him in Arles in October of 1888. Famously, things did not go well. The psychotic episode that resulted in Van Gogh attacking Gauguin and lopping off his own earlobe — which he presented to a prostitute named Rachel — is one of the art world's most memorable anecdotes. That story was recently challenged by a pair of German art historians who claimed that it was Gauguin who sliced off Van Gogh's earlobe with a sword. This claim has been refuted by descendants of the doctors who treated Van Gogh at the time, who insist that the scientific and historical evidence prove that the injury could only have been the self-inflicted result of a moment of violent rage.
"I think the Germans have a book to sell," says Pierrette Nouet, a city guide who has been giving Van Gogh tours for a decade. "And we've said so much about Van Gogh that every so often you have to find something new to say about him. In one sense it's good because it shows that he's an artist who, 100 years later, can still stir up debate." Nouet is careful to point out that Van Gogh did sell one painting for "100 francs, which wasn't nothing at the time." She cites a good review that was published before his death, challenging the notion that he died in total obscurity. "He wasn't a martyr," she says. "Maybe the Arlesians didn't like him because he acted crazy, drank 70 percent absinthe, screamed all night. But he wasn't unloved — that's a legend. He was unknown," she adds. "Once he became famous, everybody suddenly had a grandfather who knew him. But it wasn't true." (As it happens, the world's oldest woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, was an Arlesian. She claimed she remembered seeing Van Gogh in her uncle's shop buying paint supplies, recalling him as "dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable.") Nouet, 58, says that they didn't learn about Van Gogh when she was in school. As a teenager, she had a one-eared dog named after the artist, and she says that people were always asking her to explain the funny name.
ART IMITATING ART: THE ARTIST'S IMPRINT ON POPULAR CULTURE
Lust for Life (1956)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Based on the best-selling novel by Irving Stone, Vincente Minnelli's biographical account of Van Gogh's life stars Kirk Douglas as the tortured artist and Anthony Quinn as the fiery Paul Gauguin (a performance for which he won an Oscar). Filmed in the real-life locations where the artist lived and worked — a point emphasized even in the film's 1956 trailer — Lust for Life follows Van Gogh from the coal mines of Belgium to the French countryside, capturing the scenes depicted in his work along the way. From a table of potato-eating peasants to women washing clothes by the Pont de Langlois bridge in Arles, Minnelli's cinematic recreations of the paintings are painstakingly true to the originals. The director even went so far as to spray-paint a Provençal field yellow to better match Van Gogh's vision.
Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh (1987)
Director: Paul Cox
A passionate documentary about the artist, narrated by actor John Hurt, it relays the story of Van Gogh's turbulent life through his letters and work.
Vincent and Theo (1990)
Director: Robert Altman
This biographical film, originally developed as a miniseries for European television, explores the relationship between the artist and his brother through their trials, tribulations, and emotional struggles.
Vincent, The Full Story: A Documentary (2004)
Director: Waldemar Januszczak
This documentary delves into the artist's life and achievements. It is divided into three parts: "From Vincent's Birth to His Masterpiece," "From the Early Paintings to Arles," and "From Arles to Suicide."
The Eyes of Van Gogh (2005)
Director: Alexander Barnett
This film explores the story of the 12 months the tormented artist spent in the insane asylum at Saint-Rémy through visceral images of hallucinations, memories, and dreams.
Van Gogh (1991)
Director: Maurice Pialat
The final months of the artist's turbulent life are chronicled in this compelling account starring French actor Jacques Dutronc in a passionate and emotionally charged performance.
Director: Akira Kurosawa
This film, based on eight of the director's dreams, takes a journey through magical realism from the lyrical to the apocalyptic. "Crows" features director Martin Scorsese as Vincent Van Gogh and tells the story of an art student who finds himself inside the artist's work and converses with him in a field. The student then loses sight of Van Gogh and travels through other works in the hopes of finding him.
Starry Night (1999)
Director: Paul Davids
This comedy offers an innovative premise: A woman makes a magic potion that can bring people back from the dead, and Vincent Van Gogh is the first person on the list. Once alive, he is disoriented and shocked to find his work so valuable and well known. He starts stealing whatever he can from galleries and collectors and has a difficult time getting people to believe who he is.
It's because of tourists from around the world that the city finally decided to offer walking tours tracing Van Gogh's steps, she says. "When tourists arrive, they ask two things: 'Where is his house?' and 'Where is the Van Gogh Museum?'" says Nouet. "The house was bombed in '44. And they're always disappointed when you say that the Van Gogh Museum is actually in Amsterdam." Visitors are even more shocked to learn that the city does not possess a single canvas painted by Van Gogh. Not even L'Arlésienne (1888), which, to the chagrin of the locals, is housed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
The Vincent Van Gogh Foundation is a small private museum in Arles that was established by Yolande Clergue in 1983 to help fill that void. It is full of commissioned paintings, photographs, and other creative work inspired by Van Gogh. Works by David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Fernando Botero, and many other contemporary artists attest to the artist's legacy and lasting influence on contemporary art. Tourists are sometimes outraged to realize that the foundation doesn't have any works by its namesake artist, says communications director Souraya Abifarès one afternoon after leading a group of preschool-age children on a tour.
"There are kids who have some initiation about art, and they know the Sunflowers and Starry Night (1889), but not a lot, frankly," says Abifarès. "We work with schoolchildren because it's not just a museum for adults and to make money — it also has a pedagogical mission to educate children about who Van Gogh was and to encourage young people to become interested in art. Nobody believed in Van Gogh, but we want to believe in young people, to encourage them in ways that Van Gogh was never encouraged." In the museum is a copy of the petition signed by a few dozen of Van Gogh's neighbors, who begged the mayor to send the crazy man back to his own family. "The descendants of those people now cringe to think, 'We had a genius among us, and what did our grandparents do?'" says Abifarès. "If Arles is known around the world, it's because of Van Gogh."
Nobody is sure why he got off the train in Arles, a town that was not associated with art. When he lived there, the last famous artist had been Jacques Réattu, a painter who died 20 years before Van Gogh was born and whose name is attached to the Musée Réattu, a contemporary art space perched on the banks of the Rhône. It was the first museum in France to house a permanent photography collection, and it now holds 57 drawings donated by Picasso.
Modern-day Arles has become an international photography capital, with an annual international photography show, Les Rencontres d'Arles. It is also known for its small but influential publishing house, Actes Sud, which focuses on international writers; the Frank Gehry–designed renovation of the former SNCF train repair shops, which will become a major arts complex and second downtown; and the recently bankrupt but widely admired fashion designer Lacroix, who is today's most famous Arlesian. "It's a beautiful city that has stayed authentic," Nouet says. "It's not a museum. When kids skateboard against the walls of the Antique Theater and people transform the outside of the amphitheater into a parking lot, that's not good. On the other hand, it's not a sanctuary that opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes up at night."
Excerpted from Art + Travel by Museyon Inc.. Copyright © 2015 Museyon Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Museyon, Inc..
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Museyon Guides are visually oriented travel guides, accessibly written for the greenhorn as well as the aficionado, featuring academic-quality information on artistic and cultural interests and obsessions. They are based in New York City.
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