Paris via Williamstown, VanGogh and Nature

Van Gogh and Nature” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA gave me a new point of reference for the artist’s work. The show—gorgeous, organized chronologically, and full of lesser known works—makes the case that the natural world wasn’t just important in VanGogh’s painting, but central to his life.

VanGogh was a curious nature-lover in his youth, and his early works were somber colored, detailed drawings of rural Holland. As a young adult, he moved to Paris for art training; influenced greatly by Monet, his depictions of the natural world brightened.

Where other artists painted Paris’ technological advances, VanGogh looked closely at its green spaces: sloping hillsides, garden patches, parks, flowers. (He revealed Haussman’s architecture as a few pale, brownish brushstrokes at the edge of the canvas.)

In Provence, VanGogh used brilliant color and abstracted forms to capture olive groves, grain fields, cypress trees. These are the paintings we most associate with the artist, and my viewing was made richer by the works that preceded them: small naturalist studies of moths, birds, and butterflies; still lives; Impressionistic renderings of Paris farmland; works by Monet, Millet, and Japanese print artists who influenced him.

If you have time, take the shuttle bus from the main gallery up the hill to the Lunder Center: Whistler’s Mother, normally at Musée d’Orsay, is there, in a room of its own.

Until Sept 13