Friction of Ideas: van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard
July 19–October 19, 2014
In the summer of 2014, and for the first time in Sweden, the Gothenburg Museum of Art presented three of the most important Modernist artists in a single exhibition: Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard.
The exhibition included a number of Gauguin’s and Bernard’s most famous works from Brittany, as well as several of van Gogh’s highly regarded paintings from Arles. They are essential works in the production of the artists during a creative period in the history of modernism, when prevailing artistic practices were challenged by new ways of thinking. In their paintings, you can follow the intense exchange of ideas between the artists that lasted for a couple of years in the late 1880s, as they searched for new artistic expressions. Most of the time, they collaborated in pairs, but the third was always present in the discussion, not least thanks to a large number of letters full of drawings and sketches of new ideas and upcoming works.
Despite their differences, the highly influential oeuvres of these three artists also have many features in common. In their own specific ways, all three searched for new artistic content and expressed the ideas of the time. They met in Paris in the 1880s, where they were influenced by the novel impressionist and postimpressionist styles. But they were also fascinated by the general interest in so-called primitive art. At this time, people were positive to the modern world, but also fascinated by art and culture that they perceived as unaffected by modernity. Bernard was influenced by the mediaeval stained-glass windows in the churches in Brittany, Gauguin travelled to Martinique, and van Gogh was inspired by the Japanese woodcuts that had just recently reached Europe.
Even though they worked closely together, they often had major differences in their views on artistic form and content. The artistic partnership between Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh in Arles in Southern France – one of the most famous collaborations in art history – ended in a bloody conflict. After his mental breakdown, van Gogh took his own path, and during the following years, Gauguin and Bernard developed their art in different directions. Together, the three artists changed the face of modern art and their art has influenced Western artists ever since.
Caption: Paul Gauguin, Portrait of a Young Girl, Vaîte (Jeanne) Goupil, 1896
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