The Columbia Museum of Art has debuted the major exhibition Van Gogh and His Inspirations, on view now through Sunday, January 12, 2020. Organized by the CMA and presented by the Blanchard Family, Van Gogh and His Inspirations is an original exhibition that brings the work of one of the most beloved artists in the world to Columbia, South Carolina, alongside a variety of handpicked paintings and drawings that shaped his vision.
“Van Gogh and His Inspirations represents an exhilarating high-water mark for exhibitions at the Columbia Museum of Art,” says Executive Director Della Watkins. “This show is the commitment of years of work to secure loans from museums and private collections; plan complicated logistical details; establish national, statewide, and local partners in arts, culture, tourism, marketing, hospitality, and education; and honor audience requests for internationally significant shows in the Midlands. Get ready to immerse yourself in fascinating stories, breathtaking art, and get to know the real Van Gogh, one of history’s most mysterious and intense artists.”
Art historians and South Carolina residents Steven Naifeh and his late partner Greg Smith made a major contribution to the understanding of Van Gogh through the publication of their monumental book (and New York Times bestseller) Van Gogh: The Life in 2011. During the decade spent researching and writing this book, with access to the Van Gogh Museum archives and translations of previously ignored documents, the pair built a coherent collection of works by artists who influenced Van Gogh’s aesthetic thinking. On view to the public for the first time, this private collection speaks directly to Van Gogh’s artistic evolution.
In addition to the Smith/Naifeh collection used as its foundation, Van Gogh and His Inspirations includes loans from 12 museums across the U.S. to explore the development of Van Gogh through the lens of the artists who inspired him. The exhibition also brings 12 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh himself, including an outstanding painting of flower fields from the National Gallery of Art, a sensitive painting of a peasant weaving from The Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the world-famous self-portrait from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Side-by-side with their inspirations, these works offer visitors a window into the mind of Van Gogh.
“No artist emerges out of a vacuum, including Van Gogh,” says Chief Curator Will South. “All of us are shaped by our culture, our time, our experiences. The works by Van Gogh being loaned for this exhibition reveal his connections to the artists and culture he was part of: Flower Beds in Holland from the National Gallery of Art, for example, shows how he looked hard at the work of other landscapists like Charles-Francois Daubigny in addition to that of the Impressionists. His famous Self-Portrait from the Wadsworth Atheneum shows how Van Gogh’s ability to translate psychological intensity stretches back to predecessors such as Rembrandt. This exhibition explores, in short, how Van Gogh became Van Gogh.”
In total, Van Gogh and His Inspirations consists of some 60 works, largely paintings but also drawings and etchings, that form a unique, landmark exhibition building on the scholarship of Smith and Naifeh. Notable artists featured range from the incredibly influential and famous, including Rembrandt van Rijn and Jean-Francois Millet, to the lesser-known but highly talented, such as Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, and Anton Gerhard Alexander van Rappard.
“Before Vincent, there were surely visual pyrotechnics on canvas. But it was Van Gogh, laying dollop after dollop of brilliant color onto his canvases, consciously seizing the opportunity for copious amounts of complementary hues, who achieved the great intensity that resulted from what appeared to others at the time to be a deranged methodology,” says South. “It was this extraordinary use of color that made Van Gogh compelling, even in his own lifetime. Van Gogh and His Inspirations is a chance to see the work of artists who inspired him, to see what he borrowed from other artists, and to experience how he became the first fully Expressionist painter. It is a rare opportunity in the art world, and it just happens to be in Columbia.”
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
A full-color catalogue will accompany the exhibition and document, for the first time, the Naifeh/Smith Collection.