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Van Gogh was father to us all: Martin Bailey visits two major Van Gogh exhibitions, one in Amsterdam and New York, on his influence on Expressionism, the other an ambitious Hungarian blockbuster.

Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism is the first exhibition to focus on the artist's impact on German and Austrian Expressionism up to 1914, although the field was covered more briefly in Wan Gogh and the Modern Movement' in Essen and Amsterdam (1990-91). The starting point of the current show is the comment by the Dresden painter Max Pechstein that Wan Gogh was Father to us all!' To demonstrate the links, 29 Van Goghs are displayed alongside 63 Expressionists. This vividly emphasises how the Germanic artists took elements from Van Gogh's motifs and techniques, adapting them, without slavishly copying.

In the hang at the Van Gogh Museum, where the exhibition opened, the first section is devoted to Die Brucke, the Dresden-based group founded in 1905. Among the telling pairings are Max Pechstein's Young Woman with a Red Fan (c. 1910, private collection) and Van Gogh's The Zouave (1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam); both distinguished by strong colours. The Munich-based Der Blaue Reiter, a more informal clique that developed a few years later, also fell under Van Gogh's spell. Alexej von Jawlensky was strongly influenced by him, as the brushwork of his Wasserburg on the Inn reveals (1907, Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida).

The next section is on Vienna, and among the Expressionist highlights is Egon Schiele's recently rediscovered Autumn Sun, which sold at Christie's in London last June for 12m [pounds sterling] (1914, private collection; Fig. 4). In Amsterdam it is hung next to Vincent's Sunflowers (1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), which brings out both the similarities and differences between Van Gogh and his Austrian follower.


The Amsterdam presentation concludes with portraiture. Ernst Kirchner's Self-Portrait with a Pipe (1907, private collection) must have been directly influenced by Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with Straw Hat (1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), both in pose and technique. In Jawlensky's Serf:Portrait with Top Hat (c. 1904, private collection), the brushwork is Van Gogh's, even if the German artist's formal attire and smug expression owe little to the tortured figure of Vincent.

In considering the impact of Van Gogh on Expressionism, the difficult question is to determine the extent of the influence--and how it operated. Had the Expressionist artist actually seen the paired Van Gogh painting (black and white reproductions would not have conveyed Van Gogh's dramatic colouring)? Or was the impact more circuitous? Take Schiele's Autumn Sun. The sun and sunflowers are among the Dutch artist's most famous motifs, but while he usually painted them bursting with life, Schiele's flowers are drooping and the pale sun ties low in the sky. Is this Schiele's tribute to Vincent? Or is it more symbolic of his despair over World War I?

At the Van Gogh Museum, the pictures are allowed to speak for themselves, although there are brief explanatory captions. The catalogue of the Amsterdam exhibition (available in English) gives further information, but although the essay by curator Jill Lloyd is authoritative, it is frequently too brief when discussing individual works. As a catalogue it is frustrating, since some works in the exhibition are not reproduced, while others in the book are not in the show. The Neue Galerie in New York, where the exhibition opens later this month, is publishing a different and slightly longer catalogue, but also without individual entries.

Wincent van Gogh and Expressionism' should therefore be treated as a visual treat, stimulating the viewer to tease out the links between the Dutch Post-Impressionist master and his Germanic followers (Figs 2 and 3). It will be interesting to see what approach will be taken in another show later this year, "Vienna-Paris: Van Gogh, Cezanne and Austria's Modernists', which opens at Vienna's Lower Belvedere on 3 October.


Just one week after the Expressionism show began in Amsterdam, the first-ever Van Gogh exhibition in Hungary opened at Budapest's Szepmuveszeti Museum. Although Budapest was one of the two key cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Van Gogh made little impact there. None of his paintings was exhibited there until 1907 (or possibly 1910) and although there were a few early collectors (Adolf Kohner, Marcell Nemes and Pill Majovszky), the works they owned were soon sold.

Since the 1930s there has not been a single Van Gogh in Hungarian private collections and although the Budapest museum owns four, all are works on paper. The exhibition does not deal with the collecting of Van Gogh in Hungary, as the relevant loans were unavailable. However, it is covered in the comprehensive catalogue, a 540-page doorstopper (an English edition is promised). 'Van Gogh in Budapest' is a general retrospective, with an impressive list of loans: 43 paintings (Fig. 1), 24 drawings and 10 prints by Van Gogh. Although it is most unusual for venues to reveal valuations, the works are said by the museum to be worth 400m [pounds sterling].


One of the key loans was the subject of a tug-of-war between the exhibitions in Amsterdam and Budapest. Plain of Auvers (1890, Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna) was the first Van Gogh to be bought by an Austrian museum, in 1903. As such it had a major impact not only on the Expressionists, but also on Hungarian art-lovers who visited Vienna. Both sets of curators badly wanted the picture, but a last-minute decision was made to send it to Hungary.

The chronological presentation of Van Gogh works well in Budapest, although the lighting (spotlit works in a darkened gallery) is less successful. The show, curated by Judit Gesko, also includes related material, putting the artist in context: works by other artists who had an impact on him, Japanese prints that he admired, and Hungarian art that was influenced by him.

'Van Gogh in Budapest' marks the Szepmuveszeti Museum's centenary. Its director, Lazlo Baan, is hoping for 500,000 visitors (during the 1990s, the museum received only around 200,000 visitors a year). The cost of mounting this ambitious exhibition was 1.1m [pounds sterling], with 265,000 [pounds sterling] from ING Bank, in Hungary's largest-ever arts sponsorship. Dr Balm wants Van Gogh to put the Budapest museum on the international exhibition circuit.
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Author:Bailey, Martin
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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