VINCENT Van Gogh is very much of the cultural moment, with Willem Dafoe producing an Oscar-nominated turn as the troubled Dutch artist in At Eternity’s Gate. While his fortunes will be decided later this month, in the meantime a documentary returns to cinemas as part of the Exhibition on Screen series.
Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing presents works from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which contains a vast trove of his work, along with work he acquired, all bequeathed by the Van Gogh family. The documentary gained momentum after the museum decided to rehang the entire collection, while declaring it wanted to present a more accurate reflection of Van Gogh’s biography by interweaving his work with that of his contemporaries.
For those with only a pencil sketch of the artist’s life, particularly around his turbulent life, culminating in chopping off his own ear and suicide, the intercut interviews with museum staff and family members will provide the desired result: a much more nuanced and deeply observed understanding of his life, times and of course, his creative output.
Perhaps most surprising is the twisted path that led him to become an artist. Born in 1853 to a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and his wife, he struggled towards his vocation through a half-hearted start in art dealership through an uncle, including stints in Paris and London. This was the profession his beloved brother Theo pursued. Indeed it was a suggestion from Theo for Vincent to devote himself to art, after his attempt at a career in theology had also failed, that eventually led him to find his real calling.
But this was no foregone conclusion either and indeed it is the Protestant work ethic, a very direct desire to demonstrate reverence through deliberate and concerted effort, that is attributed to his eventual success.
So began a long apprenticeship and deep immersion in artistic practice to eventually become a byword for painterly genius.
Actor Jamie de Courcey brings Van Gogh to life, humanising the artist with long studies of the face that the artist himself studied so assiduously in famous paintings.
The experts are always engaging and their enthusiasm is obvious and infectious. However, there is a certain static quality to the movement between interviews and elaboration on the development of his style. Nevertheless there is so much to learn and absorb here, and of course there are the paintings themselves in all their glory, with the cinema screen giving them such resonance and a fitting format for work wrung out from the very core of Vincent.
Vincent Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing
Directed by David Bickerstaff
In cinemas February 9,10,13