Van Gogh in Paris, Eykyn Maclean, London – review

Van Gogh believed that “the whole future of modern art is to be found in the south”, so in 1888 he moved to Provence to provoke on his canvases extreme effects of light and colour that would force a new painterly expressiveness.

But he would not have had the knowledge to do so without spending time in Paris first. That story is the subject of this rare, historic exhibition: exploring Van Gogh’s development from 1886 to 1888, it sets eight paintings and drawings made in the French capital alongside works by artists he encountered there.

In 1886, Van Gogh was a Dutch tonal painter of earthy, peasant subjects. In “A Pair of Shoes, One Shoe Upside Down”, his palette remains dark but already he invests an unprepossessing object with monumental emotional presence, as he would do later with his armchair. The Hague’s great “Self-portrait” has a new brightness – red hair and beard, warm tones on the face, and fresh, bold brushwork.

Van Gogh was looking at Monticelli’s still-lifes, such as “Flowers in a Jardiniere”, for their thick paint and vigorous technique; his own “Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Vase” followed. Slowly he assimilated impressionism, its high-key palette and emphasis on the touche, the individual brushstroke – Monet’s “View of Bennecourt” here was sold through his brother Theo’s gallery. Then he went further: as heralded in “Wheat Field”, completed just before his departure, he would adapt the complementary-coloured dots of Signac (“Bank of the Seine at Asnières”) and Seurat (“White Houses, Ville d’Avray”) into the dabs of pure brilliant pigment characterising his revolutionary Provence paintings.

Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin are all here; so are Louis Anquetin (a night café scene recalled by Van Gogh in Arles), Van Gogh’s friend Emile Bernard and others, in juxtapositions demonstrating how a great artist can learn crucial lessons from a lesser one, and how painters who become footnotes in art history may nevertheless contribute vitally to the current of their times.

From Thursday until November 29,

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