Ottawa - November 16, 2011

The first major Canadian exhibition of works by the famous Dutch artist for more than 25 years

At the National Gallery of Canada

From May 25 to September 3, 2012

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC)’s 2012 exceptional summer show, Van Gogh: Up Close, will be the first major Canadian exhibition of works by the famous Dutch artist for more than 25 years. In what promises to be a truly unique exhibition, visitors to the National Gallery will have the opportunity to discover Vincent van Gogh’s genius from an entirely new perspective by exploring the artist’s approach to nature through his innovative use of the close-up view. Opening on May 25, 2012, the exhibition is organized in partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and supported by Sun Life Financial, the exhibition will be honoured by the patronage of Her Majesty The Queen of the Netherlands and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Van Gogh: Up Close will feature some 45 paintings from private and public collections around the world, offering the opportunity to see some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings alongside others that are rarely, if ever, shown. The exhibition will also explore parallel uses of the close-up view in Japanese prints, drawings from the 16th through the 19th century and 19th-century photographs to provide a context for Van Gogh’s extraordinary compositions. To find out more about the exhibition, visit

"Vincent van Gogh’s profound love of nature has often been taken for granted, but has rarely been studied. This project will give us fresh insight into Van Gogh’s thinking and places him in a new and unexpected light," said NGC director Marc Mayer. "We are profoundly indebted to our lenders, both institutional and private. Without their generosity and commitment to this undertaking Van Gogh: Up Close would have been impossible."

“As a long-standing supporter of the arts in Canada, we are proud to partner with the National Gallery as Presenting Sponsor of this outstanding exhibition,” said Dean Connor, President of Sun Life Financial. “We are delighted that thousands of Canadians will now have the opportunity to view some of this brilliant artist’s most original and radical work.” 

Nature in focus
Beginning with his work from Paris (1886/7) and continuing to the end of his career (1890), the exhibition will reveal how Van Gogh experimented with depth of field and focus by zooming in on a tuft of grass or a single budding iris in some paintings, while providing shifting views of a field or garden in others. For example, the show will display Iris (1889), from the National Gallery of Canada’s collection, as well as paintings that depict another corner of the garden where Van Gogh painted Iris, but from a wider angle. Van Gogh: Up Close will demonstrate how these paintings became the most radical and innovative in the artist’s body of work.

Where it started
In early 1886 Van Gogh arrived in Paris from the Netherlands and came face to face with a revolutionary new way of painting. For the first time he was exposed to the art of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, which compelled him to revise his painting in both content and style. He quickly abandoned the sombre hues of his earlier Dutch works in favour of a brighter palette and modernized brushstroke, beginning with a series of flower still lifes painted in a typical 19th-century Western style. But Van Gogh swiftly departed from this tradition and focused increasingly on the subject itself, eliminating the surrounding space.

At the same time, Van Gogh developed a keen interest in Japanese woodblock prints, which he admired for their aesthetic qualities. Like the Impressionist painters who had discovered these prints earlier, Van Gogh became fascinated with Japanese art. This led him to experiment with unusual visual angles, decorative use of colour, cropping and flattening of his compositions.

In 1888, in Arles, Vincent van Gogh wrote: If we study Japanese art, then we see a man, undoubtedly wise, who spends his time – on what? – studying the distance from the earth to the moon? […] – no, he studies a single blade of grass. This blade of grass leads him to draw all the plants – then the seasons, the broad features of landscapes, finally animals, and then the human figure. He spends his life like that, and life is too short to do everything.

Van Gogh, the man
While often remembered for his battles with mental illness, Van Gogh was an ambitious, well-read and sophisticated thinker whose work was informed and deliberate. He was fluent in English, French and Dutch, and he had a great love for the written word. Through out his life he read a vast amount of literature that stretched from the bible to French Naturalist writings. Van Gogh also had a strong understanding of art history that extended from Old Master paintings right up to the emergence of photography.

Exhibition curators
Independent Scholar and Guest Curator Dr. Cornelia Homburg and Dr. Anabelle Kienle, Assistant Curator, European and American art (1850–1980) at the National Gallery of Canada, are the curators of Van Gogh: Up Close, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Dr. Cornelia Homburg studied art history in Germany, the USA, and the Netherlands and began her career as assistant curator at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. After curatorships at the Washington University Gallery of Art in St. Louis and The Saint Louis Art Museum, USA, where she became also Chief Curator, she has worked as an independent art historian since 2003. Her activities include research on 19th and 20th century art, collaborations with museums, the organization of exhibitions, and various advisory functions. In addition to a book on the oeuvre of Van Gogh in 2007, her projects include the exhibitions Max Beckmann and Paris, in 1999; Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard, in 2001; German Art Now, in 2003; and Max Beckmann: Traum des Lebens, in 2006; and Vincent van Gogh: Timeless Country – Modern City, in 2010. Among other things she is preparing a project on the collaboration and subsequent inspiration of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin for 2015.

Dr. Anabelle Kienle studied art history, cultural studies and sociology in Münster, Germany, and Vienna, Austria. In November 2006, she joined the Curatorial staff of the National Gallery of Canada after having received her PhD from the Westfälische Wilhems-Universität Münster. In 2000, she was awarded the Aronson graduate internship in modern art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, where she conducted research into the museum’s renowned German expressionist collection. In Saint Louis, she also provided curatorial support to the special exhibition Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard (2001). Subsequently, she spearheaded the Saint Louis Art Museum’s Nazi-era provenance research project living part-time in Berlin. Kienle has written in the areas of modern and contemporary art and published a book on Max Beckmann’s American years based on her dissertation (Imhof Verlag, 2008). She is the curator for the exhibition Icons of Modernism from the National Gallery of Canada, which will be shown at the Art Gallery of Alberta (spring 2012).

Van Gogh: Up Close – the catalogue
The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue published by Yale University Press, which will be available as of February 2012 at the NGC Bookstore and online at

With never-before-published research, this reference book will present a completely new way of looking at Vincent van Gogh’s later production, exploring the artist’s approach to nature through his innovative use of the close-up view. Focusing on the last years of the artist’s career – from 1886 until his death in July 1890 – it will include essays by some of the leading scholars in the field. Van Gogh’s radical approach to the close-up is examined and set in the context of contemporary and historical references, making it the only publication to date to address in detail this aspect of the artist’s oeuvre.

Connect with Van Gogh: Up Close
The NGC regularly publishes information about the exhibition on its social media networks. To find out more, connect with:
Twitter @gallerydotca

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information:

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