"What fascinates me much, much more than does anything else in my métier is the
portrait, the modern portrait…I should like to do portraits which will appear as
revelations to people in 100 years time."
--Vincent van Gogh, Arles, 1890
Just as the richness of human expression inspired Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), the range and beauty of his portraits inspired three premier North American museums to present Van Gogh: Face to Face, the first comprehensive exhibition of portraits by one of the best-known painter in the history of Western art. Featuring some 60 paintings and drawings from an international array of public and private collections, the exhibition reflects the artist's commitment to portraiture throughout his enormously influential but tragically brief career.
Van Gogh: Face to Face will be on view at The Detroit Institute of Arts from March 12 to June 4, 2000; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from July 2 to September 24, 2000; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 22, 2000, to January 14, 2001.
The permanent collections of The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art hold five major portraits of the Roulin family. Joseph Roulin, a postman, showed great and sustained kindness to van Gogh during his sojourn in the French town of Arles in 1888. Roulin, together with his wife Augustine and their three children, were the artist's most frequent and loyal models during this period. These pivotal works, representing Van Gogh at his most innovative and with sitters of whom he was very fond, will be joined by important portraits from every stage of the artist's career.
Large-scale and finely detailed drawings, produced in the Netherlands at the Hague and in Nuenen between 1882 and 1885, are the earliest works in this exhibition, and reflect van Gogh's prodigious success in capturing the essential character of his anonymous subjects: poor peasants, fishermen, and pensioners with whom the artist clearly empathized. Curiously, van Gogh did not portray himself or paint members of his family during his years in the Netherlands, his native country.
Following his relocation to Paris, where he lived in 1886 and 1887, van Gogh undertook a series of intense self-portraits as well as more celebratory examinations of friends and colleagues, including the art-dealer Alex Reid and the paint-seller and dealer Père Tanguy. In addition to the luminous works created in Arles, the exhibition will include candid and moving portraits produced by van Gogh while at the sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, as well as serene yet penetrating works painted during the frenetically productive time in Auvers, his final home.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated, 272-page survey of van Gogh's portraiture published by The Detroit Institute of Arts, and Thames & Hudson, Inc. Essays by exhibition curators and other leading scholars are featured, as well as a bibliography and exhibition checklist.
The exhibition's curators, all specialists in 19th-century European and Dutch painting, are George Keyes, The Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European Painting, The Detroit Institute of Arts; George T. M. Shackelford, Chair, Art of Europe, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Joseph J. Rishel, The Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Van Gogh: Face to Face is organized by The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Detroit showing of the exhibition is made possible by a generous contribution from the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund. In Philadelphia, the exhibition is made possible, in part, by a generous contribution from First Union Bank.