Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
25 September 2015 – 17 January 2016
“During his short life, Van Gogh did not allow his flame to go out. Fire and embers were his brushes during the few years of his life, whilst he burned out for his art.” – Munch, 1933
From 1900 onwards, works by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) were increasingly shown together. An exhibition in Cologne in 1912 heralded the two artists as the fathers of modern art. Despite being in Paris around the same time and frequenting many of the same places, it is not thought that Munch and Van Gogh ever met. Their lives and works, however, display uncanny parallels, both setting out to be painters in 1880 and both struggling with and injuring themselves during periods of depression and mental ill health. This thorough exhibition put together by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Munch Museum in Oslo is the first to explore these overlapping trajectories in any depth.
The exhibition opens with a self-portrait by each artist. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887-88) is almost pointillist in style, with thick strokes and vivid colour. Munch, on the other hand, in Self-Portrait with Palette (1926), uses much thinner paint and allows patches of canvas to show through. Both artists portray themselves with the tools of their trade and a heavy frown. Throughout the exhibition, the key current is one of emotions and expression, with each artist taking a rollercoaster ride through life, exploring new techniques for sharing these experiences with the world. We see them develop in terms of freedom of style and choice of colours, from their early paintings, such as Van Gogh’s caricature-like The Potato Eaters (1885) and Munch’s impressionist Morning (1884), through depictions of trees, sunsets, starry nights, wheat fields and couples promenading. Intimate renderings of their bedrooms draw the main comparison to a close, before a final “symphony”, intended to create an impression of each artist’s most significant series of works, through short slide shows and reproductions: Van Gogh’s Décoration (August-October 1888) and Munch’s Frieze of Life (1893-1944).