IN HIS EARLY TWENTIES, before becoming an artist, Van Gogh spent three years in England working for an art dealer and then teaching and preaching in and around London. He read extensively in English and was particularly moved by the novels of Dickens, writing: “My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes.
While he was inspired by the art of Constable and Millais, which are featured in the exhibition, Van Gogh was also attracted to the black and white prints, popular at the time, and illustrating the reality of Victorian poverty and the hardships of the working class. He saw clearly that modern life brought prosperity for some while many remained trapped in extreme poverty, and he expressed this in letters and sketches included alongside the paintings.
The exhibition also looks at the British artists who were inspired by Van Gogh when his work first came to public attention 20 years after his death through the ground-breaking exhibition Manet and the post-impressionists. Mounted in 1910 by members of what would become the Bloomsbury Group, this exhibition introduced the term “post-impressionism” to categorise the works of Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh and set British artists on the road to modern art.
It could be argued that the premise of the exhibition is rather tenuous. British art and culture may have influenced Van Gogh’s thinking – but certainly not his vibrant individual style and execution. His paintings are the true stars of the show. If you can afford the rather steep entrance cost, it’s worth it to lose yourself in the presence and energy of 50 Van Gogh works – which totally eclipse the slightly artificial narrative.
Wantage CLP and Unite member.