The National Gallery of Canada’s summer exhibition, “Van Gogh: Up Close,” opened to the public today amidst much excitement and anticipation.
The exhibition, which was a collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, features 47 paintings by the post-impressionist master. National Gallery director Marc Mayer said that he expects the exhibition to draw an estimated 200,000 visitors—almost double the number of last summer’s Caravaggio exhibition.
Some of these paintings have not been seen by the public in decades, Mayer said. This is also the first exhibition of its kind to focus primarily on Van Gogh’s specific attention to the close up in nature, she said.
“It’s a show that’s visually appealing as well as having a high level of scholarship,” co-curator Anabelle Kienle said. “I’m hoping that we get lots of people who would come anyway, but that they also will discover something new about Van Gogh.”
“The exhibition reaffirms our role as an institution that is dedicated to scholarship and new knowledge,” Mayer said. “There has never been an exhibition that dedicated exclusively to Van Gogh’s passion for nature.”
Having featured Daumier, Renoir, and other European masters in the past, Kienle said that a showcase of Van Gogh’s work was long overdue.She also said that she felt obligated to organize the exhibition, since not all Canadians can go see the original paintings in major collections abroad.
Kienle and Mayer also emphasized the importance of including three Van Gogh pieces from the gallery’s permanent collection in the exhibition. “We are extrapolating on what Canada already owns and you see it in different context,” she said.
One of the biggest attractions at the exhibition is Van Gogh’s “Iris” which is part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection. The exhibition gives context to this painting by placing it alongside other works of the same time period and style.
Beyond Van Gogh’s paintings, the exhibition features three galleries of Japanese prints, 19th century photographs, and a selection of works from “old masters” and contemporary artists that help contextualize the artist’s works on canvas.
Interactive features aim to make Van Gogh accessible and appealing to individuals of all backgrounds and ages. There are audio guides specifically for children, and an artist’s studio section which features activities such as writing letters to Van Gogh and recreating still lives using iPads.
“Van Gogh is probably the most beloved artist of all time,” Mayer said. “I think a lot of people are going to come and I think they are going to love it for sure.”