Small installation at Detroit Institute of Arts explores van Gogh’s influences

Peasants in fields. Rural landscapes. Painting from life, not manuals.

Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh may be known for all three but he was several other artists, many of whom were part of Holland’s Hague school of art, a group of artists working in that part of his native country in the late 19th century, who shaped him as a painter.

Now, a focused installation at the Detroit Institute of the Arts explores some of those artists, their work and impact on van Gogh before the museum’s blockbuster “Van Gogh in America” ​​exhibit opens later this year.

“Van Gogh’s Artistic Roots: The Hague School and French Realism,” inside the DIA’s Dr. George and Vivian Dean Gallery until Jan. 29, features 12 pieces — seven paintings and five works on paper, including pastels, watercolors and prints — by eight artists, most from the Netherlands but a few from France. All of them influenced van Gogh’s work in some way for a period, either through their subjects, technique or rural landscapes.

It’s about putting van Gogh in context, said Dorota Chudzicka, the DIA’s assistant curator of modern European art.

“We feature artists that van Gogh admired, wrote about in his letters and wanted to emulate,” said Chudzicka. “Several of them impacted his work, especially in the early years of his career.”

The small installation—and it is, indeed, small; five of the works on paper, however, will be changed out this summer because they can only be exposed to light for so long — comes as the DIA prepares to open its highly anticipated exhibition this fall, “Van Gogh in America.” It will feature 70 van Gogh paintings and “tell the story of America’s introduction to the iconic artist,” according to a press release.

The exhibit is timed with the 100th anniversary of the DIA’s purchase of van Gogh’s 1887 “Self-Portrait” at an auction in New York in 1922. It was the first American museum to purchase a van Gogh painting for its collection. The DIA now has five.

"Self Portrait" (1887) by Vincent van Gogh was purchased by the DIA in 1922. It was the first American museum to purchase one of van Gogh's paintings.

After multiple career changes, van Gogh decided in 1880 that he wanted to be an artist. He lived in several places, including roughly two years in the early 1880s in Hague on the Netherlands’ west coast. He lived there once before in the 1860s.

“He wanted desperately to be part of an artist community, to interact with artists in order to learn and to improve himself,” said Chudzicka. “He had, from the start, this all consuming ambition to not only be an artist but to be a successful artist.”

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