The Clark Art Institute’s Van Gogh and Nature exhibition, running through September 13th, is an outstanding example of how fresh a well-established artist’s work can feel when cast in a new and novel light. Assembled with works from around the globe and with assistance at home and abroad, the pieces in this collection span a handful of mediums and almost the whole range of the artist’s career, but are bound together tightly by their shared subject - the natural world. The forty oil paintings and ten drawings serve as a testament to Van Gogh’s life-long fascination with the world around him.
Many people know Vincent Van Gogh as one of the great masters, whose impressionistic renderings of sunflowers and the night sky awakened the world to the subjectivity and capriciousness of our human senses. These beautiful paintings seem to belie a lifetime spent in the careful and engaged study of the natural world. The world around him was a subject that fascinated Van Gogh and held his interest throughout his entire life. Often the purpose of a great exhibition, especially one focused on such a well-known artist, is less to provide a survey or introduction to their work, and more to offer the museum goer a new lens through which to focus their attention and critical eye. The great curatorial skill is to see a thread running through the larger field and weave together an exhibition that can unify disparate works into a cohesive whole statement about an artist’s work.
There is a beautiful narrative line that can be traced from Van Gogh’s early, biblically inspired landscape renderings forward through time as he began to understand and accept the major advances made in the natural sciences during his lifetime. In his native Netherlands he created many beautiful, elegant sketches of the natural world accompanied by his personal observations of the changing seasons around him. As he traveled south into France, his ambition to do justice to the world he saw led him to paint many striking landscapes, especially in Arles and Saint-Rémy. He captured the unique character of these towns and the countryside in every season, creating a complete picture of this region as seen through his eyes.
The Clark Art Institute, nestled cozily in the foothills of the Berkshires, offers a particularly apt setting for this collection, especially in the summer and early fall. The deep, vivid greens and blues that surround the museum echo the intense colors of Van Gogh’s works.
His talent at capturing the constant motion of light in the atmosphere and the subtle pulsing shifts in the colors of the natural world, surely encourages the viewer’s awareness of the movement and life surrounding them on the museums bucolic grounds. We rate this exhibit as one of the season’s must-see activities, and encourage you to make the trip. Van Gogh and Nature runs from June 14, 2015 through September 13, 2015.