The two “immersive” Van Gogh exhibitions bound for Los Angeles haven’t even opened yet and we’re already kind of sick of them. There are at least five different flavors of these events set to travel across the country this year but they all follow the same basic formula: Blow up familiar pieces like Sunflowers and The Starry Night into wall-sized projections and sell $30-plus tickets to snap social media fodder.
But here’s the thing: In Los Angeles, you can see actual, original Vincent van Gogh paintings hanging in museums, and in some cases for free. We can’t quite compete with New York, Paris or Amsterdam when it comes to the size of their Van Gogh collections, but we still think L.A. boasts a few impressive pieces from the famous post-impressionist that are worth visiting in person.
Here’s where you can easily see some real-deal Van Gogh paintings in L.A., no overpriced spectacle tickets required.
The Getty has four pieces in its collection, including two ink drawings and a watercolor painting that are currently off display. But you’re pretty much always guaranteed to see Irises, a boldly-colored oil canvas that hangs in the second floor of the free museum’s west pavilion. The floral study was painted in the final year of Van Gogh’s life while committed at an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France—an instantly recognizable period that also produced The Starry Night.
The Pasadena institution boasts more Van Gogh pieces than any other SoCal museum: six oil paintings, an etching on paper (the only one Van Gogh ever created), an ink-and-gouache piece and an autographed letter penned about a month before the artist died. Five of the paintings are currently on display, including an early-career still life and a snowy scene, as well as a portrait of his mother and one of a peasant in a bonnet, which served as a study for Van Gogh’s first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters. You’ll also find Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier), a forcefully-expressed painting, as the artist himself described it, created during a breakthrough period in Arles.
A programming note to start with: You won’t see any Van Gogh paintings on display right now at the Hammer Museum. But after “Made in L.A.” wraps up in August, it’s almost a sure thing that Hospital at Saint-Rémy will hang on a wall again in the Westwood museum’s permanent Armand Hammer Collection. The swirling treescape was painted during the same asylum stay as Irises, and you can listen to an hour-long lecture about that period from art historian John Walsh, which was recorded as part of a 2019 Van Gogh exhibition at the Hammer.
The museum also has some pieces tucked into its archive, including paintings The Sower and Garden of the Rectory at Nuenen, as well as a print of Portrait of Dr. Gachet (the Norton Simon has an etching of this same piece).
LACMA (sort of)
Consider this one a bonus pick as it’s pretty unlikely to see LACMA’s pair of Van Gogh drawings out on display. You can, however, pick up a kerchief printed with the museum’s drawing of The Postman Joseph Roulin, a release tied to the 2014 exhibition “Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky.”