james debate
james debate

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Without a doubt the biggest blockbuster exhibition in London for the next few months is going to be The Real Van Gogh at the Royal Academy of arts. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-opening viewing with press and education staff, complete with background lecture and free wine, and I can tell you right now, you're going to want to see this

the real van gogh royal academy

Some art exhibitions attempt to shock its patrons with edgy installations, others seek the familiar. Then there's this one, which takes an iconic figure like Van Gogh and digs through the legend so that we can appreciate the real human being behind the art.

So much of what we know about this man is caricature; the "troubled genius" with issues who cut off his own ear, and produced wild swirling paintings, a reflection of the confusion and turmoil within. This is the legend, but with this exhibition we learn the method behind the madness.

The exhibition tells the full story of Van Gogh's career, from his early beginnings living in the Hague, to his time in Paris, Arles and committing himself to hospital in Saint-Rémy.

But it's not just about the paintings, many of which are exquisite, even more so in person than I realised. We also get to see his letters, correspondence between Van Gogh and his younger brother Theo, who sent moral and financial support. These letters give us detailed insight into the thinking behind Van Gogh's work, and the meticulous and thoughtful process with which he perfected his art. It offers a wonderful new perspective on this man and the considerable talent at his disposal.

These letters are often accompanied by intricately detailed drawings of Van Gogh's paintings, some more detailed than the painting itself. One can see the full depth of Van Gogh's vision, as well as the development of his technique and skill over the years.

While many of his most famous works can not be seen in this exhibition (the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has the rights to those), this is is still a must for any fan of Van Gogh, or of art in general, providing an unrivalled, detailed insight into the man, the method, and the genius.

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