Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Van Gogh Meets Art History Survey

It's interesting to look at the different art history survey texts out there and which van Goghs they've chosen to include. Gardner's "Art Through the Ages," the text I use for my courses, has two: "Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine" and "Starry Night." Stokstad's Art History has two as well: "Starry Night" and "Japonaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree." Jansen's text (the revised 6th ed, anyway, I don't have the newest edition) eschews "Starry Night" in favor of "The Potato Eaters," the London version of "Wheatfield with Cypresses," and one of the Saint-Remy self-portraits. Topping them all is Laurie Schneider Adams' "Art Across Time" with SIX paintings: "Potato Eaters," "Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain," the Orsay version of "Bedroom at Arles," the Amsterdam version of "Wheatfield with Reaper," the Orsay Saint-Remy self-portrait, and "Starry Night." Each book author/publisher has its own agenda and makes particular points with their choices.

Which of his own paintings would Vincent choose for a survey textbook? That's a tough question, although it's true he favored certain of his works over others. I think the London version of "Sunflowers" would be one of them, and I actually think he'd go with one of the Arles bedroom canvases. Maybe "Potato Eaters," but not if he only could pick one or two. "Harvest at Arles: the Blue Cart" would be a prime candidate; he was always proud of that one. He would not pick "Starry Night" -- I think that's a given, and I doubt he'd pick "Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine." The latter canvas he considered one of his ugliest works (he meant it to be), but of course "Art Through the Ages" doesn't tell you that! It's a fascinating picture though, for its use of color and its view into the seedy side of Arles nightlife. More on that another day...

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