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August 14th, 2000
First-ever Exhibition of Van Gogh's Portraits Opens in Philadelphia this Fall

In 1890, just months before his suicide, Vincent van Gogh wrote: "What fascinates me much, much more than 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." As the richness of human expression inspired van Gogh (1853-90), so the range and beauty of his portraits encouraged three North American museums to present Van Gogh: Face to Face, the first comprehensive exhibition of portraits by one of the best-known painters in the history of Western art. Van Gogh: Face to Face makes the final stop in its tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 22, 2000, to January 14, 2001. The exhibition drew record-breaking attendance at The Detroit Institute of Arts (March 12-June 4, 2000), and has met with great acclaim at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (through September 24, 2000).

Featuring more than 70 paintings and drawings-many of which have never been on view in the United States--from an international array of public and private collections, Van Gogh: Face to Face reflects the artist's commitment to portraiture throughout his enormously influential but brief career. Among the exhibition's highlights is a range of five bold self- portraits, starting with the earliest paintings done shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1886.

"Van Gogh: Face to Face finds a wonderful context in the superb 19th-century collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Museum. "Not only are great examples of van Gogh's landscape and still-life painting on view in our galleries-including Rain of 1889 and the only version of his spectacular Sunflowers in North America-but the collections are rich in the art of his Impressionist and Post-Impressionist contemporaries such as Cézanne, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and his colleague Gauguin. Among more conservative Dutch painters, van Gogh admired his cousin-by-marriage Anton Mauve, Jozef Israëls, and other members of the Hague School. The Museum owns Israëls' Last Breath, Mauve's Return of the Flock, and other works that relate so directly to van Gogh's eloquent drawings and paintings of Dutch peasants and fishermen."

Concurrent with Van Gogh: Face to Face will be a special installation of Portrait Drawings from the Collection, and the reopening of the Museum's newly renovated and reinstalled Galleries of Modern and Contemporary Art, in which van Gogh's legacy is evident in the work of many 20th-century artists.

Organized chronologically, Van Gogh: Face to Face explores the artist's fascination with his fellow human beings, and the extraordinary development of his vision. It includes early character studies of anonymous peasants and aged pensioners with whom the artist clearly empathized, done while living in The Hague in 1882 and 1883; powerful examinations of friends and colleagues, including the art-dealer Alex Reid, and Clasina Hoornik (Sien), with whom van Gogh shared a troubled relationship; an extraordinary group of portraits of the Roulin family, who befriended van Gogh in the French town of Arles; intense self-portraits; candid and moving portraits produced by van Gogh while at the sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence; and concludes with serene yet penetrating works painted during the frenetically productive time in Auvers, his final home.

Among the Roulin family portraits are seven likenesses of the pater familias Joseph, the postman who showed great and sustained kindness to van Gogh during his sojourn in Arles in 1888. Roulin, together with his wife Augustine and their three children-sons Camille and Armand, and the baby Marcelle--were the artist's most frequent and loyal models during this period. These pivotal works, representing van Gogh at his most innovative, depict sitters of whom he was fond.

Born in 1853, van Gogh devoted himself to painting and drawing only during the last decade of his life. He decided to become an artist in 1880, and worked in his native Netherlands until 1886. Van Gogh then moved to Paris, where he met the Impressionist painters, including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as the Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin. By 1888, the hectic pace of Parisian life took its toll on van Gogh both mentally and physically, and prompted his relocation to Arles in the south of France. It was there that van Gogh suffered one of his most violent breakdowns, and he eventually committed himself to an asylum at St.-Rémy in 1889. Van Gogh continued to work in St.-Rémy and later in Auvers, a town just northwest of Paris. He suffered further psychological collapses, however, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July 1890, at the age of 37.

The exhibition is 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. Van Gogh Face to Face, a 272-page, 9 x 12" publication, is available in softcover for $29.95, and $50.00 in hardcover, at the Museum Stores, by calling (215) 684-7962, or online at

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.

Mr. Rishel notes, "The modern portrait begins with van Gogh, and we are delighted to present the startling, uncompromising, and always empathic vision of an artist who so gloriously achieved his stated goal: 'to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize...portraiture with the thoughts, the soul of the model in it.'"

Van Gogh: Face to Face is made possible in Philadelphia by Aetna and First Union. Additional support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Amtrak, and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. NBC 10 WCAU is the broadcast media sponsor. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are the print media sponsors. The exhibition was organized by The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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