Arles, exhibition, modern art

van Gogh and the Independence of Drawing

Vincent van Gogh, Vieillard buvant du café [Old man drinking coffee], November 1882, 49x28.3cm

Vincent van Gogh, Vieillard buvant du café [Old man drinking coffee], November 1882, 49×28.3cm

The exhibition of drawings by van Gogh at the Fondation van Gogh in Arles, France (visited between two photography exhibitions; running until September, 20) puts an emphasis on a lesser known dimension of the painter, and especially on the first years of his learning how to draw. Rather than becoming classically trained in formal nudes, van Gogh collects prints, cuts out engravings from newspapers, and constitutes reference albums for himself in doing so. For instance, William Small’s etching from his London Sketches, A November Fog (below) creates a sort of floating, equivocal reality through the treatment of the fog, and of the plumes of smoke coming from the torches or the horses’s breaths. Moreover, one can imagine van Gogh being fascinated with the curvilinear and blurred lines of this drawing – in the same way he appreciated Japanese engravings and drawings.

William Small, Brouillard de novembre à Londres [London Sketches, A November Fog], 1877, woodcut, 22.4x30.2cm, published in The Graphic Portfolio

William Small, Brouillard de novembre à Londres [London Sketches, A November Fog], 1877, woodcut, 22.4×30.2cm, published in The Graphic Portfolio

The most striking aspect of this exhibition lies in the truly powerful older artworks: darkened drawings of beggars and peasants – common folk the painter feels drawn to – and bodies at work or at rest. One of the most accomplished drawings (above) is probably this old man drinking coffee in The Hague (1882), whom we will encounter a little further on, reading or staring at us in his shabby coat. Features such as the obliquity of the chair (a premonition?), the powerful shoes, the stiff and rough fingers clenching the cup make this drawing an especially compelling one.

Vincent van Gogh, Le jardin de l'hôpital [Garden of the Hospital], Arles, May 1899, 46.6x59.9cm

Vincent van Gogh, Le jardin de l’hôpital [Garden of the Hospital], Arles, May 1899, 46.6×59.9cm

The exhibition demonstrates how, as van Gogh career goes on, such drawings are frequently linked to paintings and sketches, or, on the contrary, how they stand as artworks “derived” a posteriori. It also shows how, for a long time, van Gogh avoids color – “an obstruction” as he put it – to focus on drawing, and how the drawings he executed in Arles, such as this Garden of the Hospital, bring about the same turmoil his tormented paintings do.

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait du Docteur Gachet [Portrait of Doctor Gachet], Auvers-sur-Oise, June, 15, 1890, etching, 18x15cm

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait du Docteur Gachet [Portrait of Doctor Gachet], Auvers-sur-Oise, June, 15, 1890, etching, 18x15cm

Finally, it’s an opportunity to see van Gogh’s only etching, a portrait of Doctor Gachet made on the spot with a metal sheet the doctor provided, during a chance visit on June 15th, 1880.

Next to van Gogh’s, Roni Horn’s exhibition pales up in comparison – why are her glass cylinders (antithetic to drawings) in display here? –, and so does Japanese artist Tabaimo’s. The catalogue is quite beautiful, from publishing house Actes Sud, also releasing the catalogue for an exhibition pairing van Gogh and Munch (which I have yet to see).

Read this article:
in the original French; alt.
in Spanish

Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: August 31, 2015.

Translation by Lucas Faugère

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One thought on “van Gogh and the Independence of Drawing

  1. Pingback: van Gogh et l’indépendance du dessin | lunettesrouges1

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