The Underground (locals call it the Tube) from Heathrow airport to Trafalgar Square was almost an hour’s ride with what seemed like fifty stops. But that's $5 vs a $65 taxi ride. Having left Spain behind on my journey, I was looking forward to entering a country of English speaking folks. That said, in today’s global society, much of the major metropolitan areas on earth have English signs to help you get around. However, it did not take me long to realize what the English people speak can be, in some places, far from what we Americans speak! Imagine what we must sound like to them! Trafalgar Square is in central London where there is one of the premier, albeit smaller, art museums in the world, the National Gallery.
Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Its collection belongs to the government on behalf of the British public, and entry to the main collection is free of charge. In 2019, it was ranked seventh in the world on the list of most visited art museums. It is the public keeper of some of the most well known and valued artists in the world. Though it is always hard for me to choose a particular artist for this trip’s focus, the National Gallery made today’s choice a little easier for me.
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in Zundert, Netherlands on March 30th, 1853 and died July 29th, 1890 at his own hands after years of mental illness, depression and poverty. Think Kirk Douglas and "Lust for Life".
Let’s first get the name clear: Van Gogh is a Dutch toponymic (a personal name derived from a place name) surname meaning "from/of Goch", a town on the border of the Netherlands in the Kleve District of Germany. It is an uncommon surname (792 people in the Netherlands in last count), and most people are, like the painter, descendant of Gerrit van Goch, who married in 1631 in The Hague. So there you have it.
Vincent van Gogh is today one of the most popular of the Post-Impressionist painters, although he was not widely appreciated nor commercially successful during his lifetime. He is now famed for the great vitality of his works which are characterized by expressive and emotive use of brilliant color and energetic application of impasto paint. That’s putting on the paint really thick! The traumas of his life, documented in his letters, have tended to dominate and distort modern perceptions of his art. Van Gogh, as he has commonly come to be known as, created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life. They include landscapes, still-lifes, portraits, and self-portraits, and are characterized by bold colors, and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. He was not commercially successful during his lifetime yet has become one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western Art.
Here at the National Gallery, one can see one in his famous series, “Sunflowers”.
Another of his National Gallery works is “A Wheatfield, with Cypresses”
as well as “Farms Near Auvers”.
Here we see one of his famous self portraits.
Want to know something even more amazing about this painting? You can see it in person! It is part of the permanent collection at the Chicago Art Institute, on Chicago’s magnificent mile. As some of you know, one of the fun things I like to do is introduce young (and old) art enthusiasts to the Chicago Art Institute, where one can indulge themselves for hours into the works of the great masters and Van Gogh himself as well as lesser known artists. An hour and a half train ride to downtown Chicago from Milwaukee’s Intermodal station and a 15 minute walk from Union Station to the Institute, I am your official escort on a day trip to experience the wonders of the Art Institute of Chicago. Give me a call or email if you have an interest!