Van Gogh’s Intimate Exhibit Dedicated to His Final Years Lands at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Iconic painter Vincent van Gogh was a man of nature – but his love for the natural went beyond just a passing interest or phase in his creative career.

“Van Gogh struggled with mental illness all his life and obviously he was very troublesome with people and much preferred solitary wandering,” said Matthew Welch, deputy director and chief curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “In his letters to his brother Theo, he repeatedly expressed how nature was in a way his salvation.”

In his last work, he returned to nature, and more particularly to the olive groves surrounding the psychiatric hospital of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the south of France where he stayed from June to December 1889.

“Van Gogh and the Olive Groves,” a new exhibition opening at Mia on Saturday, takes a focused and intimate look at six works made during this period, with three more from before and after.

A larger version of this show opened in October 2021 in Dallas, then traveled to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This truncated version at Mia will be her last stop.

Although the exhibition originated elsewhere and was not a project that Mia was directly involved in organizing, her arrival here will be a homecoming of sorts because, in an unusual twist, Mia has lent her prized Impressionist work “Olive Trees”, 1889, at the traveling exhibition. .

Normally, the museum doesn’t loan a work unless it was part of the project from the start, but the Dallas Museum and the Van Gogh Museum have been relentless.

“They kept telling us that it was really vital to their exhibit that our painting be in there,” Welch said. “So finally [Mia director and president] Katie Luber said, “Well, one of the reasons we don’t usually loan her out is that she guts our big Impressionist collection, so what could you do for us?”

The museums generously offered to loan Mia four works from the Van Gogh Museum and two works from Dallas. The exhibition includes an etching, a work in graphite on paper, a watercolor and black stone on paper and six paintings.

“I think it’s kind of a cool project in that it’s a finite number of paintings,” Welch said.

In five of the paintings and one of the graphite sketches on display, all made between June and December 1889, Van Gogh depicts the undulating tree trunks and scorching sun around the mental institute where he stayed.

The three other works exhibited, before or after this period, represent people and places; his engraving “Portrait of Doctor Gachet (Auvers-sur-Oise)”, dated May 15, 1890, was made less than three months before his death.

A typical painting exhibition might have 30-50 works, while an exhibition at Mia’s Target Galleries might have around 130 works.

The Dallas Museum and the Van Gogh Museum have learned through scientific research that Van Gogh did not work strictly in a plein-air technique, which is simply an artist painting from nature and entirely outdoors. Instead, it turns out that when he was outdoors, he blocked out the composition with an oil wash and sketches. At another point, he added the thicker paint that people associate with Van Gogh on top of this preliminary work.

This exhibit certainly provides a sense of intimacy, focusing on the end of Van Gogh’s life, long before he was resurrected as an immersive zombie-like spectacle, which returns to Minneapolis on July, 1st.

“The paintings were created when he was in the depths of his mental illness,” Welch said. “He could see the wheat fields from his room in the psychiatric hospital, then when they let him out of intensive care, he walked through the olive groves surrounding the hospital.”


Van Gogh and the olive trees

When: June 25-Sept. 18.

Where: Minneapolis Art Institute, 2400 3rd Ave. S

Hours: 10am-5pm Tue, Wed, Fri-Sun ; 10am-9pm Thu.

Cost: $16, free for ages 17 and under.

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