Published: January 23, 2001
SAINT LOUIS, MO. – Running February 17 through May 13, The Saint Louis Art Museum’s exhibition, “Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard,” features nearly 70 paintings and works on paper by Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries, Paul Gauguin, Charles Angrand, Emile Bernard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Louis Anquetin, Camille and Lucien Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac.
The show takes a new look at Van Gogh’s interaction with these artists, all of whom were associated with the various avant-grade movements in Paris in the late 1880s. Van Gogh actively participated in discussing and debating new ideas, which ultimately became the shape and substance of modern art in Europe. He identified these artists as the painters of the “petit boulevard.”
This exhibition presents Van Gogh’s contacts with artists who are very well known, such as Gauguin or Toulouse-Lautrec, but also presents his interaction with painters such as Anquetin or Bernard, who were important figures at the time, but whose works are little known by the public today. Some of the works in the exhibition have rarely or never before been seen in the United States and are being juxtaposed with some of the most famous paintings of the late Nineteenth Century.
Moving freely between the avant-grade camps, Van Gogh related as easily to Signac and the followers of Neo-Impressionism as to Bernard and Gauguin, who refused to have anything to do with the Neo-Impressionists. In 1887, he organized an exhibition of Japanese prints that influenced the work of several of his colleagues in Paris, then organized a show of innovative paintings by the painters of the “petit boulevard.” After he moved to the south of France in early 1888, Van Gogh maintained contact with his Parisian friends through correspondence and exchange or works of art.
The exhibition is organized around four themes that reflect these artists’ interests and ambitions: the urban landscape of Paris; entertainment and nightlife; portraiture; and landscape. The first two of these topics concentrate on the experience of the city; the other two – portraiture and landscape – are pervasive themes throughout the artists’ careers and become especially apparent when the artists leave the city, Seurat for the coasts of Normandy, Gauguin and Bernard for Brittany, and Van Gogh for Arles.
When Van Gogh moved to the south of France he hoped to establish a communal studio for artists in his Yellow House in Arles. Only Gauguin came and stayed for almost two months in 1888. Gauguin’s painting, “Women at Arles: The Mistral,” is an extraordinary example from the time the two artists worked together. It indicates the dramatic difference between Gauguin’s flat, decorative style of painting and Van Gogh’s heavily worked impasto.
The artistic competition between Van Gogh and Gaugiun becomes apparent in the comparison of the two marvelous portraits of the same woman, Madame Roulin. Gauguin emphasized compositions, “The Blue Trees,” also in the show. Van Gogh not only depicted a rather voluminous figure in front of a decorative background, but as Elizabeth Childs writes in her catalogue essay: “He invests far more interest in the subject herself who became an icon of maternal comfort.”
The exhibition is curated by Cornelia Homburg, assistant director for curatorial affairs and curator of modern art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, organizer of the exhibition and its sole United States venue. The exhibition will travel to the Staedel in Frankfurt, Germany, where it will be on view during the summer.
A fully illustrated color catalogue, co-published with Rizzoli, contains essays by Elizabeth Childs, Cornelia Homburg, John House, and Richard Thomson.
A symposium will be held in conjunction with exhibition on April 20 and 21. To register, 314/655-5476. The Saint Louis Art Museum is at 1 Fine Arts Drive. For information, 314/721-0072.
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