(Left) Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949 (Right) Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947
Vincent van Gogh has been popular in headlines around the world this week, after it was confirmed that a painting stowed in an attic for years is an authentic van Gogh original.
The revelation begins an interesting dialogue about the impact of science and technology on the art world. There’s no doubt it’s opened innumerable doors of opportunity as a medium, but it’s also created an opportunity for new questions to be asked. In the case of the discovered painting, technology (among other resources) helped us answer a question. Is this painting by Vincent van Gogh? Yes, we can decidedly say it is.
But in the Phillips’s upcoming exhibition Van Gogh Repetitions, science and technology may leave us with more questions than answers. We’re able to examine van Gogh’s works at a level never before known. We can tell what elements make the blues hiding inside the gap of Madame Roulin‘s sleeves vary from portrait to portrait, or how many millimeters the distance between her eyes changes, but it can’t tell us what compelled the artist to make five paintings of the same woman, or which changes he even intended to make. Were some just error? Are there more limbs on a tree in the background of the Phillips’s The Road Menders than there in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy) because it was more true to life, or because van Gogh found it more visually appealing?
As Director Dorothy Kosinski notes in this Washington Post article by Emily Yahr, art history isn’t static; “there’s so much that’s changed and continues to change, and it’s a wonderful revelation—especially to the layperson—of the importance of the work we do.”
Amy Wike, Publicity & Marketing Coordinator
If you’ve seen one of the recent issues of The Phillips Collection’s Magazine, you may have noticed a wonderful article, “A Tour de Force”, written by Joseph Holbach, Chief Registrar and Director of Special Initiatives, which outlined the numerous Phillips exhibitions which have been traveling the world since the 1980s. Within the article was a graphical representation of the different tour “routes” to put it all into perspective.
Using that infographic and a simple jQuery plugin called Craftmap, we created a mini interactive that allows the user to zoom from one tour venue to the next, or even drag the map around to explore more organically. Best of all, since its jQuery and HTML, its mobile-device friendly! Try it out on the Touring Exhibitions page in the Collection section of our site!
We’re hoping this is just the start, as many of the works that have been on tour will be coming home in 2014, so developing some larger digital projects in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition, is being discussed. Be sure to stay tuned!
A map showing some of the locations of touring exhibitions over the past thirty-plus years.
(left to right) Infrared of Degas's Dancers at the Barre revealing multiple leg positions; new project screen for iPhone apps; Edgar Degas, Dancers at the Barre, Degas, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar, Dancers at the Barre, early 1880s-c. 1900. Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 38 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1944.
After attending a spotlight tour that featured Degas’s Dancers at the Barre, my app developer friend and I had an interesting conversation. The gallery educator had pointed out a ghostlike leg peeking through the paint and referred to at least eight different legs the conservator found beneath the surface of the picture using infrared reflectography. As I’ve studied art for years, this revelation was no surprise to me, but my friend’s perspective was a refreshing insight on the connection between the two seemingly dissimilar fields of art and software design:
“Designing software is so much more than just playing on my computer. It’s my own version of art. When I open up a new project for an iPhone app, a blank white screen appears. This small detail (whether or not it was intended) makes me feel just like an artist would feel buying a new canvas. The possibilities are endless. I can create absolutely anything on that screen, and people will interact with it and take from it a thousand different things” –S. Abousalbi
In a way, the freedom that Degas must have felt in drawing multiple legs to find the perfect line relates to the design process for my friend as he crafts functionality and usability in his apps. This parallel is one of the reasons I will always love art–everyone connects to it differently and, even when I thought I’d taken everything from this piece that I could, looking at it through a programmer’s eyes showed me something completely new.
Katherine Kunze, Marketing Intern