Vincent van Gough 'Sunflowers' 1888 and Jacob Epstein 'Sunflowers' 1933

More than 45 paintings by Vincent van Gogh will go on show next year at an exhibition exploring the influence of British art and culture on the “brilliant and unhappy genius”.

Curators at Tate Britain have assembled the biggest group of paintings by the Dutch artist to be shown in the UK for nearly a decade, including “Starry Night on the Rhône” (1888) from the Musée D’Orsay in Paris and the artist’s 1889 self-portrait, held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), rarely lent by the National Gallery in London, will be shown for the first time alongside flower paintings by the British artists it inspired, including Jacob Epstein and Christopher Wood. A self-portrait of the solitary artist walking along a road — a painting that was later destroyed — was also copied by the Francis Bacon, who was greatly influenced by the Dutch artist. His version of Van Gogh’s work appears in the show, due to open at Tate Britain in March.

“To artists like Bacon, and the British public at large, Van Gogh epitomised the idea of the embattled, misunderstood artist, set apart from mainstream society,” Tate said.

Van Gogh, 'Self-portrait' (1889) © National Gallery of Art

The show also looks at the period between 1873 and 1876, formative years Van Gogh spent in London working as an art dealer. He lived in Brixton, spent hours walking the streets and visited the capital’s art galleries, admiring works by British artists such as John Constable and John Everett Millais. In a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote: “I love London.”

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) Starry Night Over the Rhone 1888 Oil paint on canvas 725 x 920 mm Paris, Musée d'Orsay Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski Vincent van Gogh (1853
Van Gogh's 'Starry Night Over the Rhône' (1888), a cosmic vision of nature © Musée d'Orsay

Van Gogh spoke four languages and was an avid reader of English literature, consuming the novels of Charles Dickens and rereading his Christmas tales every year. Two Dickens volumes are given a prominent position in one of his portraits in the show, “L’Arlésienne” (1890).

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) L’Arlésienne 1890 Oil paint on canvas 650 x 540 mm Collection MASP (São Paulo Museum of Art) Photo credit: João Musa
'L’Arlésienne', Vincent van Gogh, 1890 © João Musa

He was also deeply inspired by British graphic art, collecting hundreds of prints and illustrations for magazines and books. Graphic artists used parallel directional lines to build up shape and texture in their prints; curators pointed to Van Gogh’s pioneering use of the same technique in his oil paintings.

The show will have the only surviving work the artist made of any British subject: a bleak oil painting based on a print by the French artist Gustave Doré, showing a group of inmates shuffling round the exercise yard in Newgate Prison.

As chancellor Philip Hammond last week announced that austerity was “coming to an end”, Tate curators drew attention to the last big Van Gogh exhibition at the gallery, which broke attendance records in 1947 — in a “colour-starved” Britain enduring rationing in the postwar period. Such was the popularity of the show, dubbed “the miracle on Millbank” by the press, that Tate wrote to the Arts Council asking for reimbursement for the damage done to the floor of the gallery over the five-week run.

“The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain” runs from March 27 to August 11 2019 at Tate Britain.

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