Much of our appreciation of Van Gogh can be traced to Helene Müller, whose acquisitions are the foundation of the Kröller-Müller Museum. This German-born heiress was wise in recognizing Van Gogh’s genius and became the first major collector of his work. She and her Dutch husband, Anton Kröller, built a sensational collection and began showing parts of it to the public as early as 1913. They lost their fortune in the economic downturn after World War I, but formed the Kröller-Müller Foundation to protect the art. In 1935, they donated a house, land and a collection of 12,000 pieces to the Netherlands on the condition the country will build a place to display it. There were 90 paintings, 185 drawings by Van Gogh.
Still Life with Four Sunflowers, 1887, has contrasts of blue and orange, yellow and red, a reason I find this painting in the Kröller-Müller Museum more interesting than Van Gogh’s more famous yellow paintings of sunflowers in a vase.
In a recent trip to the Netherlands, I was lucky to visit the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo with its awesome collection of Van Goghs. A month earlier I had seen a wonderful exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Van Gogh: Close Up, mostly paintings of nature. The 4 withered sunflowers, above, in the Otterlo museum, reminded me of the painting of two sunflowers I had seen in Philadelphia (from New York’s Metropolitan Museum).
However, we didn’t get to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where the lines were out of the door. Is there ever a time that to see a group of his paintings without big crowds? The public loves Van Gogh so much because everything pulsates and everything we feel and experience is felt so much stronger in his artworks.
My favorite Van Gogh in the Kröller- Müller Museum was The Café Terrace at Night, 1888, an outdoor view of the nightclub Van Gogh frequented in Arles. Intense contrast of yellow light meets the deep blue starry sky.
Color is sensual and color draws us into Van Gogh because his blues, greens and yellows are unique, out of this world in their beauty. Applied with heavy brush strokes, Van Gogh lines and shapes form a variety of 3-dimensional textures coming out into space, up into space or around the canvas. We witness the fury of his emotions. Students are fascinated with the details of his life, why he cut off part of an ear and later committed suicide in 1890. Van Gogh wrote of his depression and suicidal thoughts, while others described his manias. Some of his best production seems to have been painted in periods of mania. He suffered from epilepsy and drank too much absinthe. Extremes of mood made him hard to tolerate, but fostered his great genius.
As a student, Cezanne and Gauguin were my early favorites of Post-Impressionism. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the intensity of Van Gogh ….or Edvard Munch. Munch’s painting of The Scream, 1893, anticipated what was to come in the 20th century– Depression, world wars, genocides. Van Gogh certainly was a huge influence on the art of Munch and other Expressionists.
Rugged textures of the floor, body and chair and elsewhere
make the pain of Old Man in Sorrow, 1890, seem very real.
Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch had the power to visualize and portray intensity of feelings that most of us humans feel at times, though we might not admit it, or we may not be able to express it. Van Gogh in the 1880s and Munch in the 1890s experienced a world that was rapidly changing and adjustment would not be easy. We can understand the difference between old and new life in the very first painting Helene Müller bought. Paul Gabriël’s Train in Landscape, a traditional painting of c.1887, describes the Dutch world at the time of Van Gogh, one leg in the past and one in the future.
Paul Gabriël’s Train in Landscape, c. 1887, is a traditional, realistic painting of Van Gogh’s time.
A canal divides the painting in center, separating modern world from old ways of life. The left has a train and electric wires, while the right side has dikes and windmills representing the past.
I thank Helene Müller for bringing Van Gogh’s art to the public. She also patronized modern artists of her time, such as Picasso, Fernand Leger, Diego Rivera, Dutchmen Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck. She collected many other 19th century modernists: Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Pissarro, Gauguin and Munch. In 1922, Helene Muller bought her last painting, Le Chahut by Georges Seurat, a delightful circus image which gives us light-hearteded break from the serious emotions of Van Gogh.
Le Chahut, 1889-1890, by Georges Seurat, is another masterpiece in the Kröller-Müller Museum.
The humorous facial expressions are a relief from the intensity of Van Gogh’s expressiveness,
and from the stiffness of his famous Sunday Afternoon on the Island of .La Grande Jatte.
Since 1977, the museum has added contemporary art and will continue to expand. Not all the famous Van Goghs can be seen at the Kröler-Müller at any one time. A beautiful example of The Sower owned by the museum was not on view. Today the Kröller-Müller Museum presents Van Gogh in context with other artists, including contemporary artists. It is in a huge park, once the Kröller property, and there is a wonderful sculpture garden outside.
A sculpture garden in the large park surrounding the Kröller-Müller Museum has a
playful landscape sculpture by Jean Dubuffet
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016
The Newseum in Washington, DC, opened near the Mall in 2008. This 7-floor, 653 square-foot building on Pennsylvania Avenue is a museum of photographic, print and broadcast journalism. Its architecture combines ultra-sleek glass with reinforced concrete.
Instead of going to the National Gallery’s exhibition, Andy Warhol: Headlines, a trip to the Newseum across the street to learn about real headlines and the history of journalism would be more worthwhile. Warhol had a need for publicity, but that does not make his art interesting and real life news deserves more of the public’s attention. The 14 galleries and 15 theaters involve many historic events. A few news programs are broadcast here, including This Week.
Seeing a Warhol in person offers nothing new, unless the colors are wrong in reproduction. Size is the only difference between a real Warhol and a reproduction, but big does not make the art good. A concurrent Warhol exhibition at the Hirshhorn has very large pieces.
In contrast to most large National Gallery exhibitions which are teaming with visitors who can’t get their eyes off the paintings, prints or sculptures, a Warhol show gets visitors who walk through the exhibitions without stopping to look very frequently. On the Sunday I was there, no one had bought the $5 acoustiguide.
The photo above is from Wikipedia
Why has the National Gallery mounted a Warhol exhibition? Very wealthy collectors who had been lured into the hype have paid $18 million plus for his works, investments which could be worth little in 100 years. A recent news flash showed that actress Sandra Bullock’s son received the gift of a Warhol print; even a one-year old baby is learning to be fashionable. While working at a blue chip Chicago art gallery (not as trendy as Hollywood or New York) in the 80s, I saw how some collectors buy to be in style or flaunt their prosperity rather than for love or interest in art. Collecting Warhol is often for people who fall prey to these scenarios.
A recent PBS documentary about Warhol showed how many of his ideas were not his own ideas, even the soup cans. Contrary to the myth Warhol perpetuated, he was not the inventor of Pop Art. Better than going to a Warhol exhibition, one is advised to watch the PBS show on DVD or watch his imitators, today’s reality trendsetters on TV.
Furthermore, he has completely done a disservice to artists by suggesting that the shallow, narcissistic and capitalistic instinct should be cultivated as art.
Before giving Warhol attention, we should recognize the drug culture he created with many young women and men at The Factory in New York, where workers help him mass produce images. The terrible addictions and deaths that some of these “groupies” experienced should not be disregarded, as he promoted behavior influencing their demise in order to cultivate followers. Warhol received too much attention in his life and he does not deserve it now.
Instead of looking at his uninspired work, viewers should gaze at some of the stunning photojournalism in the Newseum, works of visionary power and depth which can be both illuminating and moving to viewers. The “Pictures of the Year” exhibition just closed. However, a traveling exhibition of Pulitzer-Prize winning photographs is on view through December 2011.
If you disagree, please feel free to comment on this blog and explain why his art has any value. If Andy is genuinely important, there will be persuasive arguments in Warhol’s favor. But if Warhol defenders don’t come to the rescue, you will prove my point — that the public should stay home and avoid these exhibitions. Writing your differences of opinion, just like freedom for artists to express themselves, is all important!
The Newseum is funded by Freedom Forum, a non-partisan group group dedicated to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and free spirit for all people. Its mission is “raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society” and bring understanding between the public and the press. Like other institutions these days, it has hit hard financial times (isn’t it time for the price of an Andy Warhol to go down?) and staff had to be cut. The price of admission is now $21.75. But exhibits are interactive and you can spend an entire day there.
Finally, the true artist is one who would do art regardless of fame or fortune, someone like Van Gogh who sold no paintings in his lifetime but whose art truly moves people to this day. In a hundred years, Warhol will be forgotten because his art is lacking.
Here is a blogger who also has poor things to say about Warhol:
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016