I’m reading: Munch : Van Gogh

fullsizerenderToday I am recommending as a summer read the book from my favourite 2015 art exhibition, the “Munch : Van Gogh” exhibition catalogue, edited by Maite Van Dijk, Magne Bruteig and Leo Jansen. I visited “Munch : Van Gogh” at the Munch Museum in Oslo about a year ago and it was a wonderful experience to see so many masterpieces side by side. Considering how prized their works are, so much so that both have been at the center of high profile art thefts in the last decade, pulling together such an exhibition was a monumental achievement of resources and diplomacy in its own right. The english version of the exhibition catalogue from “Munch : Van Gogh” is a delight to read. It does have some very minor flaws. The language is on occasion contrived and some content is repeated between essays. As the latter helped me in better retaining the key ideas from the research, it did not distract from the overall quality of the read. Here is why I enjoy this particular book as my summer read of 2016:

  1. Confrontation. Seeing all the wonderful colour plates side by side, page after page of both artists is a just a feast for the eyes. We can see when the artists tackled similar subjects, experimented with changes in their colour palette, or both toyed with a technique after their exposure to French painting. The affinity between both artists has been written about since 1897 and after having seen more than one stand-alone exhibition for each artist, I was not really sure this book would still be able to surprise. But surprise and delight it did.
  2. Breadth. Perhaps because so much has been said already about both artists and their status in the history of modern art, most new exhibitions focus on a very specific aspect of their creative activity or period. What I really liked about this book is that the different essays cover their entire spectrum of creative activity, from the formative years at home to their time in Paris and beyond. It showcases in a straightforward manner the variety of techniques and influences as each developed their own language.
  3. The cycle essay. We are so used to seeing the masterpieces as center stage pieces on their own, that it is not obvious anymore that many could have been conceived as part of a full artist series. The essay by Uwe Schneede corrects this perception and made me look at the Yellow House in Arles with new eyes. This essay also brings across concisely and clearly where the essential difference between Munch and Van Gogh’s art lies. This is the one spoiler I will not give away here.

Finally, whether you are gazing at a summer night in Oslo or a wheatfield in the Provence, with such bold colours this feels like the right season to leaf through these pages.

Here is the link to the international distributor for the “Munch : Van Gogh” exhibition catalogue and the book’s reference number:
Munch : Van Gogh
ISBN: 978-0-300-21157-3

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