Van Gogh landscape show proves art blockbuster

Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:48am EDT
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By Robert Evans

BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - "In landscapes, Van Gogh found the peace of mind and balance that was missing from his own life."

Visitors to a stunning exhibition at Basel's Kunstmuseum could be excused a quibble with this assertion from its curators as they emerge from the 70-work survey of the Dutch artist's frenetic 10-year career in the 1880s.

But there is no doubt that the show in this art-mad, 1,000-year-old Swiss Rhineside city on the borders of France and Germany is a European cultural highlight of the summer.

"Vincent Van Gogh-Between Earth and Heaven: The Landscapes" has already, half way through its five-month run, attracted a record for the museum of 250,000 visitors from around the world.

Billed as the first-ever exhibition covering landscapes from every period of the artist's work, it ranges from the dark tones of the rural Brabant scenes of 1881-85 to the pastel-bright country views of his final and frenziedly productive three months in Auvers, north of Paris, where he put a bullet in his chest during a walk through the fields in July 1890.

In between, it covers the cityscapes and suburban vistas of his 1886-88 Paris years, the blooming orchards and startling blue and yellow Provencal harvest scenes of his eventful year in Arles, and the menacing cloud swirls and twisting trees of the next 12 months he spent as a patient in the Saint Paul psychiatric hospital at St. Remy nearby.

These last, as they have for many critics over the last 120 years, seem to encapsulate the mental turmoil that had built over the years as he switched from unsuccessful art dealer to failed Protestant preacher and finally to the penniless painter that he was at his death at the age of 37.

They include "The Garden of Saint Paul's Hospital" of November 1889, where the chunky stump of a decapitated tree leans toward the wall of the asylum like a stricken giant seeking support -- a clear image of his own predicament.   Continued...

<p>A man looks at the painting 'Self Portrait with a Japanese print' from 1887 by late Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) during a media preview at the Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann</p>