Beautifully photographed, proceeding at a rather leisurely pace, this film directed by David Bickerstaff examines the life and times of Vincent van Gogh using the amazing resources of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum .We are granted privileged access behind the scenes . We see how the various works are hung in the Museum and some of the directors and curators analyse van Gogh’s works and life.
Some of the works are examined in extreme close up detail and van Gogh’s approach to his work minutely analysed. It attempts to analyse his creative process.
The film is roughly organised chronologically, following Van Gogh’s short, turbulent life. It is a blend of voiceover narration (often Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo) talking heads segments with the curators etc, footage of the museum display and rostrum shots of paintings and letters, and Jamie de Courcey as a brooding, intense Vincent . Contemporary artists currently working, such as Lachlan Goudie, express their admiration for Van Gogh There’s also commentary from Theo’s great-grandson, Vincent Willem van Gogh, about the family history. We see not only the Museum but other important places in Vincent’s life – the asylum at Saint-Remy where he stayed at one point, the house at Auvers Sur Oise, his last bedroom and more.
Bickerstaff’s film reminds us that van Gogh, having created almost 2100 works which included 820 oil paintings and more than 1300 watercolours, was relentlessly driven by his artistic inspiration. Today, perhaps his ‘madness’ would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.
Born in 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, van Gogh’s life was heavily influenced by Protestant ideologies of selflessness and an impassioned will to work The film follows his life, Beginning as an art dealer in Goupil & Cie, van Gogh came in close proximity to the trends and works of modern artists and began understanding ‘art’. A shift to the company’s London headquarters within a few years left van Gogh sad and rather disenchanted. At one point Van Gogh even attempted his own ministry, but his sermons were most unpopular so he discontinued.
Encouraged by his brother Theo to become a painter, Van Gogh became heavily influenced by the great painters such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Charles Blanc, Francois Millet and so on., attempting to capture scenes of nature and peasants working in the fields that became his signature early style, leading to his first major work The Potato Eaters (1885) ( which both Theo and van Gogh’s friend and fellow artist Anthon van Rappard heavily criticised , but is remarkable for its perspective, major control and accomplishment as a group portrait and it’s light and dark imagery.
Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 where he became influenced by Impressionism and Pointillism. He also discovered the bohemian avant-garde of Montmartre, in particular the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. ( Both painted working-class women who owned or worked in the cafes frequented by artists, a radical subject for the era) . Van Gogh also created paintings that show the influence of Japanese woodblock prints eg : the lyrical Flowering Plum Orchard (1887) .van Gogh’s friendship with Australian artist John Russell ( and Russell’s portrait of him as recently seen in the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW) are briefly mentioned.
A move to the countryside – Arles – saw the start of Van Gogh’s most productive period, during which he completed 200 paintings, including the iconic Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers in 1888. Arles was where van Gogh lived with friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin for a short while, ending with the notorious argument in which van Gogh cut off a piece of his own ear, which eventually led to the more severe mental illness that saw him for a while being keptin a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Remy, France. It was there, in his studio-cell, that van Gogh rendered the famous swirling, tempestuous sky of The Starry Night in 1889, the year before his suicide aged 37, dying in Theo’s arms..Other famous paintings we see include The Irises and the iconic Sunflowers as well as The Wheatfields and portraits of Dr Gachet .
Van Gogh’s legacy is examined and we sadly ponder the torn, troubled artist’s life.
Runnng time is 90 minutes.
VINCENT VAN GOGH : A NEW WAY OF SEEING screens at selected cinemas from February 7 2019.