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Van Gogh and Britain

I recently visited the Tate Britain to see the ‘Van Gogh and Britain’ exhibition currently taking place. The exhibition explores Vincent van Gogh’s relationship with Britain and the time he lived here in London.

The first half of the exhibition looks at the artists and images that influenced him when he lived in London from 1873-1876. This was before he was an artist and he worked for an art dealer, Goupil, which was how he was exposed to a lot of the pieces that he found inspiring. I didn’t realise but Van Gogh didn’t actually become an artist until after his return to the Netherlands. He first tried teaching and preaching but eventually turned to painting in 1880 and continued this for the last ten years of his life.

Whilst he was in London he immersed himself in culture, visiting as many galleries and museums as he could. Throughout the exhibition you can see examples of work by various artists that influenced his work from subject matter through to form and style next to Van Gogh’s own work that he produced later on in both the Netherlands and France.

The second half of the exhibition goes on to demonstrate the impact Van Gogh’s work has had on both his contemporaries and more recent artists. It also looks at the exhibitions of his work in Britain, most notably ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ in 1910 and the showing of his work and publication of two biographies and his letters in the 1920’s. Many people linked Van Gogh’s mental health with the genius of his work and this led to a lot of interest in his paintings.

A selection of postcards showing some of Van Gogh’s well known paintings.

I thought the exhibition was well laid out and clearly showed the progression of Van Gogh’s life and work. The descriptions next to the work were very informative and I felt like I learnt a lot whilst I was there. They had several of his famous pieces such as Starry Night over the Rhône (1888), Sunflowers (1888) and some of his well-known self-portraits. It is a very popular exhibition as Van Gogh is a well-known artist and the rooms were extremely busy, with queues forming in some places to see certain works of art. I was also surprised that Tate Britain were allowing people to take photographs of the work. I found it quite distracting as it meant people were spending a lot of time lining up their perfect shot or getting really close to the paintings to photograph details. It seemed like many of the people there were just interested in photographing it all and were not really appreciating the art in real life. I saw several people going round photographing the painting and the description next to it, presumably to read later. For me this seems to defeat the point of attending an exhibition. They might have been better reading up about Vincent Van Gogh on the internet!

My favourite painting: Pollarded Willows, Arles (1888)

Tate Britain is a five minute walk from Pimlico tube station or a 20 minute walk from Victoria station. For a non-member the ticket cost £22. It took about an hour and a half to go round the exhibition and afterwards we sat down for a drink in the Djangoly Café inside the Tate. The exhibition finishes on 11 August 2019 and I would say it’s well worth a visit.

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