Van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard. Friction
February 7th – june 22th
One of art history’s most dramatic events culminated when Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) cut of a piece off his ear. It was a bloody end to nine week of intense cooperation with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) in “the yellow house” in Arles.
The exhibition, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard. Friction, portrays the two artists’ fateful confrontation and introduces the lesser known Émile Bernard (1868-1941) as a significant catalyst to their immensely tense discussions about art. Not only did the yellow house glow red with opposing thoughts and words of art, but everything was translated into groundbreaking paintings.
These “electric discussions” as Van Gogh called them, thus involved not two, but three artists. The battles were fought during 1888 – first through correspondence, next during Gauguin and Bernard’s cooperation in Bretagne and then between Gauguin and Van Gogh in Arles. In 1889 they resumed their exchange of letters. The artists mostly saw each other in pairs of two, but still the third party was always present as a voice in the debates. Partly via the letters and partly via experimental paintings used as visual arguments.
Looking at these events from a distance one could be lead to believe that Van Gogh, Gauguin and Bernard had a shared vision for creating a new pictorial language. This was far from the case – even though Van Gogh thought so for a while. Where Van Gogh viewed the modern artist as someone who ought to paint what he saw in front of him, Gauguin and Bernard thought that the modern artist should portray a world founded in the memory and fantasy.
The skims between Van Gogh’s truthful reproduction of the external world and Gauguin and Bernard’s loyalty to an inner world drenched in dream and fantasy became the abyss that for Van Gogh ended in tragedy. It is this choice between on one side, reality, likeness and realism, and on the other dream, myth and abstraction that is the focal point of the exhibition.