Visitors to the Art Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition are immediately greeted by the brilliant, iconic image of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. As co-curator Joseph J. Rishel began a tour of the exhibition last week, he gushed that the painting was “a big, bold, straightforward, stand-up, to-the-footlights, full-disclosure flower piece in the grand tradition.”
He then pivoted 90 degrees to point to a much more modest composition, a cropped-in image of a pair of sunflowers against an indeterminate blue background, and stated that this, not the more grandiose golden sunflowers, represented the theme of the show. Here, Rishel said, we find Vincent Van Gogh “looking down between his toes.”
“Van Gogh Up Close” features almost 50 paintings by the master artist taking an intimate, close-up view of nature, alongside more than 30 works representing influences and concurrent work in the same vein from Japanese woodblock prints to contemporaneous nature photography.
According to the National Gallery of Canada’s Anabelle Kienle, who co-curated the exhibition, these images of rain and undergrowth and ears of wheat were Van Gogh’s attempt to “look at the most humble motif, look at what’s before your eyes and admire it, but all the while create incredible compositions.”