Taking in Van Gogh Up Close

March 5, 2012 – The Philadelphia Museum of Art is world-renowned, yet often taken for granted by local residents.

But they’re coming out in droves to see the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh in an up close and personal exhibition, the only American stop on a groundbreaking tour that focuses on the artist’s final two years, 1889 and 1890. This was a time of great turbulence for Van Gogh, who spent most of it in an asylum, and also great production, with him at one point completing 90 paintings in 90 days.

In all Van Gogh painted almost 900 paintings between 1881 and 1890, yet he never sold a painting unless you count his brother, Theo, who he knew his brother Vincent was creating something special, and ahead of his time.

The exhibit runs through May 6, and features about 30 paintings from this period. Some of his most famous works in the exhibit include:

Van Gogh painted a series of Sunflower canvasses, four in all. The one on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was painted in 1889. All four are similar in style, and only differ slightly in color.

Our tour guide explained that in his early works, Van Gogh’s paintings featured symmetrical objects, with an equal balance throughout the canvass. In his Iris and many other paintings of that era, Van Gogh used techniques he perfected in Paris, and that were also common with Japanese art commonly known as the “S” shape. The eye focuses on the upper right hand side of the painting at first glance, and brings you around the painting in the shape of an S.

Van Gogh’s interest in Japanese art is prominent in his painting Cherry Blossom. He painted it as a gift for his nephew, also named Vincent. The painting still belongs to the Van Gogh family, and was loaned to the exhibit by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Many attendees were disappointed that A Starry Night wasn’t displayed; however, it is close by, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it is on permanent display.

In a 900-page book entitled “Van Gogh: The Life” released in Oct. 2011, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith claim that Van Gogh didn’t actually commit suicide. Rather, they write, a teenage boy accidentally shot Van Gogh, and the artist claimed he shot himself to protect the boy.

We paid $15 more than the $25 ticket price for a private tour early Sunday morning before the museum opened to the general public, and it was well worth it. The crowds have been massive for this exhibit, and were lining up around the building as we left. With the private tour, we were permitted to spend as much time in the exhibit as we wished, but only 22 people were granted entry with each tour – until the museum opened.

No photos were permitted inside the exhibit hall, but I managed to snap a few before we entered.

The back entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Outside of the exhibit hall

The grounds surrounding the museum, over looking Philadelphia and the Schuylkill River

If you live in the Philadelphia area, or are planning a visit before May 6, Van Gogh Up Close is a must see. I’m definitely not an art expert, I just know what I like, and seeing the actual paintings up close and personal, the texture of the paint and brush strokes, and the colors used (blues were definitely my favorite), was like a little piece of heaven in Philadelphia.


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A girl trying to live the dream.

16 thoughts on “Taking in Van Gogh Up Close”

  1. I love Van Gogh and will be taking Ben who also loves Van Gogh. Great pictures of the outside of the museum. I miss it. Thanks, Jane…. I can’t wait for the Barnes to open.

  2. Hi Jane! Wishing I lived closer to Philly so I could take in this exhibit.

    In my office hangs a print of Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night, which I dearly love. It is the focal point of my office and I have put near it a blue vase featuring yellow, orange, and white flowers to bring out all of the detail in the painting…

    I get nice compliments on the display, but honestly I just put it up to remind me that there is more to life than my office. The cafe tables, cobblestone streets, and starry night depicted in this print keep travel close to my thoughts and on my mind…

    Thanks for finding – and liking – my blog! I look forward to keeping up with your posts and updates as well!

    1. Ah, Cafe Terrace at Night is one of my favorites.I absolutely love the way Van Gogh used blues, yellows and oranges. While you’re in NY you should try to visit MoMA… The museum has A Starry Night on permanent display! Thanks for the comment!

      1. Great tip about MoMA! My hotel last week in New York was literally two blocks from there, but I did not have time to slip off for half a day to give it a look. Will need to make some time on a future trip to get in there and look around! :o)

  3. I’m trying to Photoshop an image of my soon-to-be-fiance (fingers crossed!) and myself into a van Gogh-inspired piece as part of my proposal. Long story short, I’ve been scanning for a lot of Vincent van Gogh’s work as part of the project. By chance, I stumbled across your blog and saw something that bothered me just a little bit. That first picture you posted? The one of the sunflowers? I’m sad to say, but…it’s a fake. It is a sort-of tribute created by John Beardsworth for one of his books. The link to his tutorial showing how he created it is below. While it is a wonderful piece of work, it’s not a true work of van Gogh. I hope you don’t take this negatively, because that is not my intention. I would just like to know that credit is given where it is due. Thank you.


    1. Scott, obviously you have a good eye, and I appreciate you pointing it out. I know Van Gogh painted several versions of Sunflowers, and at the exhibit, we weren’t permitted to take photographs, so I found this image elsewhere. I’m impressed.

      And good luck with the engagement! Sounds like you have a creative streak when it comes to proposals, too. Hope she says YES!

  4. Howdy! I know this is kind of off-topic however I had to ask.
    Does running a well-established website like
    yours require a massive amount work? I am completely
    new to running a blog but I do write in my journal on a daily basis.
    I’d like to start a blog so I can share my own experience and thoughts online. Please let me know if you have any ideas or tips for new aspiring blog owners. Appreciate it!

    1. Hi Dime,
      It depends on what you mean by massive. Blogging does take time, but it doesn’t feel like a great amount because I love it and it keeps me writing everyday. If you write in a journal, you’re halfway there already, so blogging should come naturally to you. Good luck!

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