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Vincent van Gogh: Between Earth and Heaven: The Landscapes Hardcover – September 30, 2009
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Six well illustrated scholarly essays occupy 127 of the book's 312 pages. The topics are emotionality as a common denominator in Van Gogh's oeuvre, how his Dutch origins were translated to the south of France ("Ruisdael in Provence"), his brother as collector and conservator of his paintings, his position in the tradition of French landscape painting, and the way he viewed many of his paintings as relating to one another in series and groups. I found them all to be interesting and informative. There are seventy-one catalogue entries with large reproductions, accompanied by 101 illustrations in color and large enough to serve their comparative function. The arrangement is chronological, divided according to Van Gogh's moves from Nuenen to Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers. Each section is prefaced with a short discussion of his work in that locale, but it is disappointing that there is no commentary on the individual paintings--and not for lack of space, as each painting is reproduced on the right-hand page and on the left is nothing but the title, date, size, location, and catalogue raisonne numbers (both de la Faille and Hulsker). The volume concludes with an eight-page chronological overview of Van Gogh's artistic career, with twelve black-and-white photographs and a list of exhibited works that only repeats the information already given in the catalogue and does not note provenance, selected literature or previous exhibitions. There is a short bibliography, but no index. All in all, then, this is not a perfect catalogue, and although the essays and visuals are very good, the lack of useful apparatus and, especially, of individual commentary, is disappointing. I still recommend it highly, though; simply for gathering together so many paintings that are rarely reproduced and for its critical essays, it deserves a place on the Van Gogh shelf.
The essays are interesting and shed new light on such themes as Van Gogh's roots and inspirations, his evolution towards an emotional, almost expressionistic (ahead of Expressionism obviously) approach of landscape painting, also on the question whether he should be considered a French painter in spirit and style, or rather a "Dutch painter in France", or even "an outsider whose genius transcended all borders". There are also enlightening passages on the reception of Van Gogh's art in Germany, and especially in Nazi Germany (one surprisingly learns of Goering's taste for Van Gogh's paintings, which he prominently displayed in his Carinhall palace, when at the same time Hitler banned them from German museums...).
Now, as opposed to the other reviewer, I was somewhat disappointed with the quality of the reproductions, all of the works figuring in the exhibition being illustrated half-page and the ones not in the exhibition being granted thumbnail-sized images only. Besides, having seen the exhibition in Basel, I found the colors in the book rather far from the originals. One is entitled to expect better quality from Hatje Cantz in this respect with today's technologies. Therefore, only 3 stars for the illustations and 5 for the text, which makes an average of 4 stars...
No reproduction, however good, can replicate the experience of seeing an original art painting. This is particularly so with a painter such as van Gough who utilised thick impasto brush strokes and strong colors in many of his works. Nevertheless, the publishers Hatje Cantz have made a successful effort giving the reader a reasonable impression of the original.
Van Gogh's total output of paintings was in the vicinity of 900; this exhibition presented 69 of these. Personally, I was pleased to come upon many of these works for the first time. Of course the usual familiar suspects are there, but a significant proportion of the paintings are sourced from smaller galleries and private collections.
The introductory essays are informative. The authors propose that van Gogh created some of his works in cycles, groups and triptychs. There are also a number of interesting contemporaneous photographs of locations that the artist painted.
For those interested in this aspect of van Gogh's output, Hatje Cantz has also published a volume entitled "Fields".
I strongly recommend this beautifully produced catalogue.