The Real Van Gogh The Artist And His Letters is a striking exhibition that documents the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. Most people flocking to the Royal Academy of Arts will be expecting to see a display of the artist’s finest works, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but, one actually gets so much more for Van Gogh is not only a gifted artist, but also an impassioned letter writer. His letters are addressed to his younger brother Theo, his sister Willemien, and to his fellow artists Emile Bernard, Paul Gauguin and Anthon van Rappard.
The exhibition sets out to document the many stages of Van Gogh’s colourful career; Dutch Landscape, The Peasant in action and Japanese prints, to name a few. The exhibition stretches from his early career to his last painting, displaying his ongoing change and development and highlights the dramatic contrast between his early and late work. We see him develop from a young artist with a restrained and bleak drawing and painting technique into the expressive artist of bright colours we know best today. Each phase of Van Gogh’s work is beautiful and breathtaking in its range. What sets Van Gogh apart from other artists is not his tragic life story but the enormous energy and passion that he pours into his brush strokes and colours.
The Exhibition displays forty of his original letters, with his art as the focal point. Van Gogh writes extensively about individual works, showing how he perfected and developed his drawing and painting techniques by constantly experimenting and learning, and through sheer hard work. We see him spending years developing his use of perspective through drawing after drawing, which, having mastered, provided a foundation of strong technique from which he was able to blossom.
Many of the letters contain detailed and beautiful sketches and colour notation that give the correspondent an idea of his finished work, which we can often see here displayed beside the letter. Van Gogh’s words are used to guide you through the exhibition, giving insight into his thinking as well as his techniques.
The eloquent letters shine a different light on the man who has been portrayed as little more than a mad genius and show him as a passionate, and driven intellectual, who cared deeply for his family and relationships. Through his paintings Van Gogh displays a love of nature but a love of people even more.
If you are in London this exhibition is more than worth seeing because it demonstrates an original and interesting way of exhibiting an artist’s life and work. This exhibition really brings home the idea that it’s not just about innate ability, but also hard work and focus.
By Sarah Finch