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Van Gogh and Britain review

  • Art
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

This show is great if you want to see a bunch of artists rip off Vincent Van Gogh. If you’re hoping to be immersed in Vince’s swirling night visions or undulating sunflowers and landscapes, you’ll get a bit of it, but only a nibble. The main gist of the show is to look at the British artists that influenced young Vinnie, and the British artists who in turn took inspiration from him.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some stunning Van Gogh works here, enough to give you an idea of his self-taught progression. Early drawings are grim monochrome depictions of morose old men and crestfallen women. Without the colour, you’re left with pure misery. Then you get hit with a spinning whirlpool of prisoners in a yard, swirling with dark blues and yellows. Then there’s the iconic 'Starry Night', followed by a grey and pale yellow tree that fizzes and effervesces with colour, a ripped pair of dirty boots and a handful of self-portraits.

When an artist has been as overexposed as Van Gogh, when their work has entered the public consciousness so fully that they become part of the cultural fabric of our everyday lives, when their images become t-shirts and movies and posters, you’re allowed to feel fatigued, cynical, bored. But even the grumpiest, dourest cynic (hi!) will have moments of heart stopping amazement when faced with some of these paintings.

But they’re not the real focus of this exhibition; you could fit all the Van Gogh originals in two rooms, really. Instead, most of the work here is stuff related in some way to Vincent. There are big glum Millais and Constable works filled with grey skies and long lonely paths that influenced him, and there are a bunch of paintings by British artists who loved him. Some are brilliant – the Francis Bacon works are staggering, and some of the Samuel Peploe images are lovely – but I’ll bet most people aren’t paying to see David Bomberg, Christopher Wood or Spencer Gore pay homage. They’re here for big Vince, and they’re not going to get much.

There’s nothing wrong with an exhibition about the influence Van Gogh had on artists, but it makes for an interesting show, rather than a brilliant one.

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel


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