The exhibition Calm and Exaltation. Van Gogh in the Bührle Collection, taking place at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in spring and summer 2017, presents an ensemble of eight paintings that are representative of the artist’s dazzling stylistic progression over the course of his brief career. The loans come from two institutions. Seven originate from the eponymous collection of the Swiss industrialist, whereby six of these seven are today part of the Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zürich. The eighth canvas, on display at the Fondation for a year, is on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Vincent van Gogh’s expressivity and his vision for the “modern portrait” have inspired many artists, including Alice Neel (1900–84), one of the most important American figurative painters of the 20th century.
Since June 2016 a major retrospective dedicated to this artist has been touring Europe. In 2017 makes a lengthy stop at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles. Bringing together more than 70 paintings from numerous institutions and private collections, this landmark exhibition allows us to grasp the scope of Neel’s oeuvre. As an artist who devoted herself to portraiture, Neel went against the dominant ideology in post-war New York, where abstraction was the ensign of contemporary art.
Alice Neel admired 19th-century European painters such as Van Gogh and Cézanne, who—like her—favoured spontaneity and the expression of the artist’s state of mind. Her canvases exude great intimacy and take a particular look at daily reality. Her portraits of young people from the disadvantaged social classes are hallmarked by a sombre palette. At the end of a career spanning 60 years, the artist bequeaths us a significant and fundamentally human panorama of colourful characters through the century. Neel never ceased to portray, with authenticity, matters at the heart of her epoch, including the socio-cultural struggles experienced by women. As she observed: “There is a new freedom for women to be themselves, to find out what they really are.”
It is no coincidence, therefore, that two sculptures by Rebecca Warren stand in the entrance courtyard of the Fondation. Through the medium of bronze sculpture painted in variegated colours, Warren interrogates an art history written by men and transforms these references into a dreamlike and disturbing amalgam.
Vincent van Gogh, Blossoming Chestnut Branches, 1890. Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.
Alice Neel, Jackie Curtis and Ritta Redd, 1970. Oil on canvas, framed: 154.30 x 108.90 cm, unframed: 152.40 x 106.40 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 2009.345. © The Estate of Alice Neel.
Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles
35ter rue du Docteur Fanton