Editorial Collection

Vincent Van Gogh
Foundation Pierre Gianadda
Martigny Suisse
tel: + 41 27 722 39 78

21st June to 26th November, 2000
everyday 9:00 to 19:00

Van Gogh left his imprint on modern art and on the collective consciousness as strongly as his inner torment resembles our own unspoken condition. More than just communicating his emotions, he reached us heart and soul with his tortuous brush strokes; in fact, he was the first "to run faster than beauty" as Cocteau remarked (but about Picasso's paintings). He did, indeed, run too fast and flew too high for his contemporaries to understand him, and we've just managed to catch up. Now that he is gone, his world appears to our eyes sublime with beauty, and his rythmic landscapes masterly composed.

His career as an artist spanned only ten years (1880-1890), having failed as an art dealer (two of his brothers were art dealers) and later as a preacher (his father was a priest). But the minute he decided that painting was his path, he sacrificed his whole life to it, working feverishly at first to master the medium in Holland (1881-1885) adopting the dark palette of the Dutch masters, so very different from the provence palette of his later years. But, behind every work he left there is great ambition and intense effort, there is the anguish of failure and the euphoria of achievement.

Although basically self-taught, he did take lessons in perspective and anatomy in the Hague and Brussels, but the discovery of Japanese prints had a marked impact on his taste for vivid colors, including pure black and white that was banned by some Impressionsts. His trip to Paris in March 1886 was to change him fundamentally; expecting everybody to paint like Delacroix and Millet, he discovered a Paris seized with the Impressionist fever with Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Seurat and Gauguin. This had a tremendously liberating impact on him, launching him on the outer circles of the avant garde galaxy. Two years after his first contact with Impressionism, there he was "leaving it" in order to "express himself strongly" rather than "painting directly what is in front of his eyes" to become a Post-Impressionist. Provence and its sunlight and colors was as exotic as Japan for him, but the rugged and weather-beaten landscapes scorched by the sun and tortured by the Mistral wind became emblematic of his own scorched and tormented personality.

He developed his own style, that was not the optical fusion of colors like the Impressionists or the use of graded tones of the Romantics, it was sculpting with color that he invented: sculpting with fugue, using shrill colors when he wanted to shout his dispair, where even the greens are acid and the blues convey euphoria rather than calm. Even though he made several paintings of the same subject, his intention was not to reproduce the same subject under different light but to produce the picture that finally expresses what he really felt about that subject, or the diversity of feelings that it aroused in him while treating the subject — or more likely the naked truth about life itself. In paintings such as the Arlesienne he is closer to Cézanne or Picasso than the Impressionists: the rythmic brushstrokes defy the "atmospheric effects" of the Impressionists to suggest live creatures that have the same character and essence of their surroundings — be they mountains, people, stars, flowers or olive trees. They all come from the same source and partake in the making of the universe.

The dramatic quarrel with Gauguin that led him in a crescendo of rage into cutting his ear off and sending it to his lover marks the beginning of the end for his tolerance with life. Looking at "the starry night", one wonders if it is really the halucination of a mad man as many critics suggested; is it not rather a unique universal symphony composed for humanity? Who was insane? Van Gogh or the blind world that surrounded him. His "mad period" in St. Rémy and later in Auvers-sur-Oise bring out what is true about life: the dominance of pain, struggle and failure over calm and serene existence. And yet there is beauty in the ruggedness of those who suffer, there is majesty in the courage of those who bear pain: with the dark mass of the cypress trees, it is the down-trodden and the tortured who reach heaven through the starry night; it is they who possess eternal beauty.

The exhibition in Pierre Gianadda's Foundation in Martigny is remarkable for having put together drawings and paintings by Van Gogh spanning his lifetime as a painter, with works from prestigious collections in Amsterdam, Brussels, Dallas, Budapest, Madrid, Manchester, New York, Tokyo, Zurich and Paris.

October 2000

To go to Martigny in Switzerland from Paris take the TGV at the Gare de Lyon (trip takes 3 hours 40), change at Lausanne and take the train to Martigny (trip takes 50 minutes).