I met a lot of Vincent van Gogh fans on Saturday. They were delighted to hear there is going to be an exhibition of the artist’s work at The Phillips Collection this fall!
Photos: Jane Clifford
Let me explain. I spent last Saturday, May 11, taking part in the Delegation of the European Union’s EU Open House initiative. As part of this year’s annual celebration of culture, 28 embassies opened their doors to the public free of charge, offering a rare look inside their buildings as well as food, music, and the chance to experience firsthand their rich cultures.
I was lucky to be working behind the scenes as a volunteer at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, promoting the Phillips’s upcoming Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition. The Embassy was a perfect setting in which to inform people of the first exhibition of van Gogh’s work in Washington in 15 years, given that he is not only one of the most celebrated artists in history but also a Dutch national.
Overall it was a wonderful day–the rain held off and nearly 2,700 D.C. residents and visitors came through the doors to learn about the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch art, and culture. To top it off, the Embassy offered complementary stroopwaffles (yum!), Heineken, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (a division of the Anglo-Dutch Unilever conglomerate, who knew?).
Jane Clifford, Marketing Intern
View of Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone’s office wall, with images from this fall’s Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition and catalogue. Photo: Liza Key Strelka
Exhibitions at the Phillips are years in the making. Our curators often spend at least 2-3 years researching, compiling checklists, locating artwork, collaborating with other museums and venues, visiting and writing to potential lenders, and writing catalogue text. During that time, they immerse themselves in the exhibition’s subject matter. Oftentimes, their offices become transformed by their work: stacks of reference catalogues piled high, drafts of loan letters and checklists abound, and the images of artworks seem to magically appear on their walls. For this fall’s Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone printed images of all the “repetitions” we will be featuring in the show and grouped them on one of her office walls, as seen in the image at left. She was able to visualize the similarities and differences between paintings of the same subject matter as she worked on her catalogue entries and began thinking about the exhibition’s layout.
Once the preliminary work is complete, the artworks are secured, and the catalogue text is off to the publisher, the real fun begins. And by “fun”, I mean playing with miniature-sized “maquettes” of the paintings in the show to determine exhibition design and layout. These small, to-scale images combined with a scaled model of our exhibition spaces allow the curator to visualize gallery layouts and groupings before the works arrive in-house, making for a smoother and more efficient installation process. Not surprisingly, it’s also much safer moving around small cardboard rectangles than priceless paintings.
Eliza Rathbone laying out maquettes of works that will be featured in Van Gogh Repetitions. Photo: Liza Key Strelka
Recently Eliza, Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele, and I sat down to begin shaping the design and visitor flow of the van Gogh exhibition in preparation for a meeting with our exhibition designer. Here’s a sneak peek of some of the works that will grace our walls beginning October 12. Stay tuned for more “sneak peeks” as our design progresses, and we get closer to opening day. We’re looking forward to sharing the real paintings and works on paper with you this fall!
Maquettes of van Gogh paintings. Photo: Liza Key Strelka
This renowned painting will be on view at The Phillips Collection this fall, one of the exceptional loans to Van Gogh Repetitions from the Musée d’Orsay. Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, 1889. Oil on canvas, 22 11/16 x 29 1/8 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Vincent van Gogh seems to endlessly fascinate us. We love his art and feel so attached to him as a person. Perhaps we’re moved by the admiration and respect for common men and women that underlie so many of his works. Perhaps it’s the vulnerability that we perceive in him as a human being, based on accounts of his life and personality. The most recent van Gogh biography, a New York Times bestseller, is nearly a thousand pages long–we just can’t seem to get enough.
In spite of this intensive, longstanding interest in the Dutch artist (or perhaps because our knowledge is obscured by the mythology that’s grown up around him ), much remains to be learned about how van Gogh actually worked. The time has come to take a closer look at his process. Last spring, the Philadelphia Museum of Art examined his working methods toward the end of his brief, ten-year career in Van Gogh Up Close . Then in the fall, the Denver Art Museum mounted Becoming Van Gogh, an in-depth look at the artist’s influences and evolution. Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Van Gogh at Work brings forward new insights, gained through years of conservation analysis, into the artist’s materials and methods.
Soon the Phillips adds its own distinctive voice to this groundswell with Van Gogh Repetitions, an exhibition opening this October that invites very focused study into a specific aspect of van Gogh’s process–his practice of making more than one version of certain subjects. His bedroom, his friends, the weavers and road menders whose labor he so admired. Perhaps by visiting this exhibition we will all learn a bit more about what fascinated him and drew him back in again and again.
Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager