Monday, February 13, 2017

Two Stolen Van Goghs Now On Display in Italy

From the You Really Should Remember to Update Your Passport If You Want to See This Department:

In 2002 two priceless paintings by Vincent Van Gogh were nicked from the Van Gogh Museum. As time passed by, hopes of recovering the paintings dimmed. These are small paintings and so could be better hidden then say, a Diego Rivera mural. The paintings are "Seascape at Scheveningen" (1882) and "Congregation leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen" (1884 or 1885.) (Pictured, left)

And then police in Napoli, Italy got news that a drug lord Raffaele Imperiale had them in his private collection. They raided the place and TA DA there were the paintings.

Before the paintings go back home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the museum is allowing a brief special (and heavily guarded) public showing in Naples. If you want to see them in Italy, act fast because the special display ends on February 26.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Review

Too much art for just one visit!

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is probably is the only museum in the world that is more famous for its steps than for any of the magnificent pieces inside. These are the steps that Sylvester Stallone made famous in the Rocky movies. On any day of the year, you can watch tourists from all over the world race up the steps and dance about in homage to Rocky Balboa.

But if you actually go inside the building, you will have your breath taken away just as much as a foolish sprint up the steps.

More Than One Day's Worth

This writer's favorite painting in the world happens to reside in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I would have missed it if I hadn't been lucky enough to have been born in raised in the greater Philadelphia area. The museum is incredibly vast. You cannot expect to "do" the Museum in just one day. That would not only do the works of art an injustice, but you will get a bad headache from the sensory overload and the stress of trying to see it all.

The best way to explore the museum is to have a map of it and then focusing on the art styles that most excite you. If you are going to the museum and don't live in the greater Philly area, then chances are you are coming for one of the magnificent exhibitions which often take place. The Philadelphia Museum of art is often the only East Coast choice for many priceless tours. If you are coming for a special exhibition, just go to the exhibition and don't worry about seeing anything else.

Famous Paintings

Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to some of the world's most famous paintings, my favorite was painted by local boy Thomas Eakins. Even though I had been to the museum many times as a child, I somehow missed this massive painting, which is so realistic, it's almost a photograph. It's called Fairman Rogers Four In Hand (A May Morning in the Park).

Other famous paintings with a permanent home in Philadelphia are Eakins' more famous painting, "The Gross Clinic"; "Interior" by Edgar Degas (also known as "The Rape"); Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase"; Monet's "Japanese Footbridge and Lily Pool"; Cezanne's "The Large Brothers"; Picasso's "Three Musicians" and the most famous version of Vincent Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" (my favorite Van Gogh.) The Impressionist Gallery alone is worth the admission price (which is about $20 but does not include admission to special exhibitions.)


When you get overwhelmed by a painting and turn to walk away, you almost feel as if you have been shoved into a pool of icy water, because the real world comes at you like a shock.  This is if you’re lucky enough to get an unobstructed view.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art often draws huge crowds and throngs of schoolchildren – even on weekdays.  Get used to dodging wheelchairs and weaving around toes.

Eventually, all of the art becomes a blur.  At this point, head for the snack bar and try to get back to earth.  It can be quite difficult to get out of the parking lot and then deal with Philly traffic, so you need to be able to concentrate. 

Poem: Van Gogh

This way of seeing --
All the world
Thick with color, thin with time
Moving moving moving
The thoughts in the head in the eyes in the throat
Down down down

On the surface of forever

Painting, Oil on Canvas on Triplex Board
Paris: Winter, 1887 - 88

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Best of Van Gogh Birthday Celebrations

In case you didn't know it, 2015 is the 162nd birthday year of our man Vincent. There were many great and not-so-great celebrations of this sobering passage of time this year, but here are the best. And how did I judge them to be the best? Entirely from my biased viewpoint, of course! If you know of any other celebrations worth noting, feel free to leave info or links in the comments section.

Here we go now:

Commemorative Coin

I guess it only made "cents" that a coin would be made to celebrate Vincent.  In this case, the amount is 5 Euros and 10 Euros, a denomination that did not exist during all of Vincent's short life. Actually, I cheated a little to include this on the list. The coins came out years ago, but I just found about them this year SO THERE.

Minneapolis Institute of Art's Honkin' Big Recreation of "Olive Trees"

Going to fly into the Minneapolis Airport anytime soon? Or perhaps you recently had a flight and looked out the window and thought you were losing what was left of your mind? Well, you will or may have already checked out the massive recreation of Van Gogh's Olive Trees in a field near the airport. The work was commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) and done by "earthworks artist" Stan Herd. No, I don't know what Stan heard, but it looks like you can dance to it. Wow!

Starry Night Grown in a Petri Dish

Now, scientists get a bad rap by those of an artistic employment. But scientists are highly creative individuals, as shown by members of the American Society for Microbiology. Van Gogh's big birthday coincided nicely with the first art contest put on by the society. The canvas was a petri dish (or succession of them) and the paint were different colored strains of bacteria. Now that's taking art to new levels and to new species.

The Google Doodle

Because they had to. (This originally went up in 2005.)

And a special shout out to

The Dahlia Parade in Zundert, Netherlands

In September, there was a flower parade to end all flower parades -- for Van Gogh fans, anyway. Floats a mere 62 feet long celebrating Van Gogh's works. Floats took about a year to make and were mostly made up of 50 species of dahlia flowers. The Rose Bowl got nuthin' on this. Well done, Zundert. More photos can be found here.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Van Gogh in Poetry

Vincent Van Gogh is not just a great artist (oh no) but he is also considered a great metaphor for poets. (For those of you who failed English 101, a metaphor is a description that does not use "like" or "as.") In other words, metaphors are things used to describe other things. This may seem like a roundabout way of making a point, but many times the point made with a metaphor makes more of an impact than if a poet or writer just used a plain description.

Here's a short look at how Vincent Van Gogh has been used to describe other things by major poets of the twentieth century. Major to ME, anyway and hopefully major to you. This is in no way a comprehensive list.

Charles Bukowski

This much-missed American icon (and subject of the cult film Barfly) was one of the most accessible poets America ever produced. He made his point without being sappy or using references so obscure that only he himself could comprehend them. Van Gogh shows up several times in the course of Bukowski's career.

Van Gogh is the starving artist who no one understands. He's very much like Bukowski himself, only Bukowski did receive critical acclaim and some money in his debauched lifetime. Van Gogh is described as a romantic and a professional fighter. He's also sometimes a hero for Bukowski, such as in "About My Very Tortured Friend Peter."

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton was the OTHER woman poet who committed suicide. She's best remembered, perhaps, as the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's classic song Mercy Street. She was also a very powerful and influential poet who first wrote poetry as a suggestion from her therapist. She wrote mostly about herself.

The Starry Night refers to Van Gogh's painting of the same name (the one Dan Mclean sang about.) It begins with a quote from Van Gogh's letters. It then describes Sexton's emotions when viewing the painting. It has an achingly beautiful refrain: "Oh starry starry night! This is how I want to die." You're not alone, there Anne.

The Van Gogh Poetry Challenge

While researching this article, I stumbled across the Van Gogh poetry challenge. It has some interesting work. Poetry and paintings both are stereo-typically hard to get for the average person, but I think these poems are easy to get and rewarding to read.

If you could  write a poem about Van Gogh, what would you write?

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles", By Martin Gayford: A Review

(This review first appeared at Goodreads. That's where I've been spending a shameful amount of time instead of updating this blog. ANYWAY --)

There was a telemovie made in the UK in 2007 based on this book by Martin Gayford (Little, Brown & Company). For once, the movie wound up being much better than the book. This book promises more than it can deliver. Just what happened between Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh remains just as mysterious as before reading this convoluted book. Although it is generously illustrated, none are in color -- a great handicap for two artists who were so devoted to color.

There are much better books about Van Gogh out there than "The Yellow House."

I was also disappointed at how much this book spent on Gaugain's life after the Yellow House. The book could have been better if it focused on the time of the Yellow House and only mentioned what happened to Gauguin briefly. The author apparently had very little material to work with and decided to milk it for what it was worth.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Van Gogh's Women"; By Derek Fell: A Review

There are a lot of Vincent Van Gogh biographies out there. Derek Fell's 2004 effort Van Gogh's Women: His Love Affairs and Journey into Madness is one of the best because it centers on one main aspect of Vincent's life -- how he got on with women. It starts off with Vincent's relationship (or lack thereof) with his mother. He also points out that being born on the same day as his stillborn older brother -- and sharing the exact same name as the dead baby -- really messed Vincent up before he had a chance to mess himself up.

For some reason, Vincent's relationship with Paul Gauguin is also included in great detail. I wasn't entirely sure why, as Fell notes that the two bohemian artists did not have a homosexual relationship (although they shared at least one whore between them.) I also did not care about reading so much about the creepy Gauguin when I wanted to read about Vincent.

This book also pushes the theory that Dr. Paul Gachet (Vincent's last doctor) helped kill Vincent. I'm not entirely sold on that theory, but it sure is interesting to read about.

The hardback edition I borrowed from the library had many reproductions of Vincent's works and photos of Vincent's family.  Again, Gauguin intrudes into the limited space the publishers made available for illustrations. (Big sigh.)  Still, I highly recommend the book.