Vincent van Gogh’s The Road Menders from the Phillips’s permanent collection. At left, the original painting. At right, the same image after applying 60% protanomal simulation in Kazunori Asada’s Chromatic Vision Simulator. Of this comparison, Asada says “In the original, the color of the trees and ground is bit strange, and coarse lines are conspicuous in the stones. But after conversion, the trees and the ground begin to look solid, and depth is felt for the road.” (Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 361/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. Acquired 1949.)
A recent essay by Japanese medical scientist Kazunori Asada proposes that Vincent van Gogh may have been colorblind—which, if accurate, would have influenced his color palette and might have resulted in the drastic, clashing hues for which he’s so well known (and admired). Asada compares side-by-side images of van Gogh’s artwork with the same image run through his Chromatic Vision Simulator (quite fun to play around with if you have a moment) and sees what he judges to be a normalizing effect. Artinfo.com’s Kyle Chayka was quick to poke some holes in Asada’s argument, pointing out that “the versions of the paintings he uses aren’t necessarily true to life.”
Whether true or not, I’m glad to have come across Asada’s research. It raises an interesting question about the artist’s role in relation to his or her work—if a piece speaks to you, does it matter what message the artist intended to send? Would van Gogh bang his fists and be upset that we’d all gotten it wrong, or would he smile for the fact that people are finding beauty and meaning where he himself didn’t even intend it?
Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator
Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.
This is the succinct title of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography of the iconic Dutchman (Random House, 2011). The title is the only thing succinct about this thoroughly detailed and well-researched 953-page tome. Unlike generations of publications probing the artist’s posthumous fame, what artistic movement he should be associated with, and his work’s meaning, The Life focuses on Vincent van Gogh’s life and times.
Naifeh and Smith, acclaimed for their 1991 biography about Jackson Pollock, have again produced a myth-busting account of an artist who lived hard, died young, and suffered for his art. Readers suffer with him as the biography so completely documents van Gogh’s many disappointments and the guilt and remorse he felt towards his family. The authors demonstrate greatest empathy for van Gogh’s family, especially his younger brother Theo. They make the case that without Theo’s ongoing financial and emotional support and his strategic position as a mainstream art dealer, we would almost certainly not know of van Gogh’s art today.
The following adjectives describe Vincent’s behavior: mad, depressed, delusional, defensive, paranoid, envious, bizarre, isolated. The authors, like Vincent’s family, seem driven to their wits’ end by him, writing: “But Vincent could not be satisfied. Every attempt at appeasement was met with greater and greater provocation as he focused the anger of a lifetime on his captive captors (his parents). He saw only criticism in their gifts . . . and condescending indulgence in their courtesies.” Continue reading “Van Gogh: The Life” »
Members of the education department took a road trip recently to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to view current exhibition Van Gogh Up Close and meet our colleagues in Philly. Works by van Gogh are in the Phillips’s permanent collection, and I used the opportunity to study the painter and get to know a work which is a near twin of our The Road Menders (1889)–The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Remy) from the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Check out some photos highlighting our trip (plus, in honor of National Poetry Month, a haiku I wrote in response to one of van Gogh’s paintings)!
A view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the famous Rocky statue out front. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt.
A sign for the van Gogh exhibition. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt.
My ticket, admission tag (look familiar?) and form asking for a haiku in response to van Gogh’s painting, A Pair of Boots. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt.
My haiku—submitted! Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt.