Thursday, June 5, 2008

Van Gogh in Basel

The world's largest contemporary art fair, Art Basel, opened Wednesday, and already there's buzz. A Lucien Freud painting sold to an anonymous buyer for $12 million, reports, and none other than Brad Pitt was spotted at the fair's preview. (Brad Pitt is a huge fan of art and architecture, as I enjoy telling my students. I have a slide of him and Angelina at Fallingwater in my modern architecture survey lecture.) Zurich-based dealers Bischofberger are offering a spring 1887 van Gogh, "Vue de Paris prise de la chambre de Vincent, rue Lepic" (pictured), and according to the story, a reserve has already been placed on it. This oil-on-cardboard painting shows the view from Vincent and Theo's apartment on 54, rue Lepic in Montmartre; note the towers of Notre-Dame in the distance. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has an oil-on-canvas version of the same view. In both, you can see the influence of painter Paul Signac, with whom Vincent spent a great deal of time in Paris. Vincent is flirting with pointillism again!

I've never had occasion to go to Art Basel, but I've been to Basel itself, when I was chasing Greek pots during my dissertation research. The old town is quite lovely, and there are a number of museums. The Antikenmuseum has a crackerjack antiquities collection and is worth a visit. The Kunstmuseum, which features post-antique art, also has a fantastic collection. They own a few van Goghs and a few others are on long-term loan, including the Auvers canvas "Daubigny's Garden." Among their own van Goghs is "Marguerite Gachet at the Piano," which was sold to the Kunstmuseum by Marguerite and her brother Paul in 1934 (not the first van Gogh sold from the Gachet collection, but the first sold to a museum).

The Kunstmuseum Basel is hosting a major exhibition of van Gogh landscapes from 26 April through 27 September 2009. Check out their website at

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