Thursday, March 25, 2010

Passievaart, a huge marsh

I finally made it to the Royal Academy's Van Gogh exhibition last weekend - I think it is the first exhibition devoted just to Van Gogh that I've ever been to.  I hadn't anticipated quite how overwhelmingly impressive some of it would be, given the familiarity of the work - it's well worth queuing and braving the crowds to see, if you haven't done so already.  There are about 35 letters, 65 paintings and 30 drawings and I was hooked from the first sketch, which dates from June 1881.  Looking up the relevant letter to Theo on the amazing Van Gogh Museum website, I see he wrote: "I must tell you that Rappard [an artist] was here for 12 days or so, and has now left.  Naturally he sends you his regards.  We went on a fair number of excursions together, several times to the heath at Seppe, among other places, and the so-called Passievaart, a huge marsh."  Although the emphasis in this first room of the exhibition is on Van Gogh's efforts to teach himself drawing, A Marsh seemed to me an impressive enough achievement in itself, combining experiments in mark making with a composition that conveys the misty poetry of the landscape.

Vincent van Gogh, A Marsh, 1881
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

In his review of the exhibition Adrian Searle traces a connection with landscape in the materials van Gogh used. 'Often the artist drew with a pen that he cut himself from the reeds that grew at the margins of Dutch waterways and roadside ditches in Province. He noted that the reeds in the south were better for drawing. For finer work, he also picked up feathers for the quills he cut to make nibs.  It's more than coincidental that reeds and birds also appear in Van Gogh's drawings. I wonder if he ever used river water to dilute his inks, and for the somewhat less successful watercolours that he made. Even the charcoal he used in his early drawings have a connection to the earth itself. Those pollarded willows that appear in his work time and again also provide the charcoal that he used.  Such connectedness would have suited his pantheist view of the world.'

1 comment:

throughstones said...

That is really interesting - and it makes sense that Van Gogh made his own drawing instruments from the natural materials that surrounded him. I think he was a phenomenal artist many years ahead of his time. His way of working seems relevant to those of us today trying to become re-integrated and connected with our natural surroundings. Wish I could see the exhibition! (though I did visit the Van Gogh Museum in Holland, many years ago, so must be satisfied with that!)