Crowds swarmed the famous paintings by van Gogh in the Hermitage - and with good reason. These van Gogh paintings seldom leave this art museum, and they'd be jewels in any collection in any art museum anywhere.
Unlike famous paintings in most art museums, the Hermitage's are seldom behind glass or
Vincent van Gogh. Memory of the Garden at Etten (Women of Arles), 1888. Oil on canvas, approximately 27" x 35". Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
plexiglass, and proximity to them isn't impeded by alarms, ropes, or stanchions. Or even guards. This seemingly lax security would be disquieting in any art museum, but it's particularly so in the Hermitage -- in 1985, its Rembrandt's Danae was slashed with a knife and splashed with sulfuric acid by a man later deemed insane; traces of the acid still lightly mar this famous artwork.
It is remarkable to have such unfettered access to van Gogh paintings like Memory of the Garden at Etten (Women in Arles), one of the works van Gogh made after relocating to Arles. Remarkably, he was prolific there in spite of his untreated mental illness.
Memory of the Garden is a patchwork of decorative areas of color; the frenzied, hurried brushwork is jarring against the stoicism of the women, but appears intentionally applied. The paint is applied in varying densities across the canvas -- on the white and yellow mums it is 3/8" thick - making a rolling, rippling texture. It's an extraordinary painting to view so closely.
Vincent van Gogh. Thatched Cottages, 1890. Oil on canvas, approx. 22" x 27". Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
In the spring of 1890, van Gogh relocated to Auvers-sur-Oise, a town north of Paris, and began treatment with the psychiatrist Dr. Paul Gachet (who became a frequent model in van Gogh paintings). Van Gogh enjoyed his most prolific period during what would become the final months of his life, completing an astonishing 70 art paintings in as many days. From Auvers, he wrote to his sister:
Vincent van Gogh. White House, June, 1890. Oil on canvas. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
There are some roofs of mossy thatch here which are superb and of which I shall certainly make something.
And make something he did, painting Thatched Cottages and White House in his instantly recognizable style of furiously energetic brushstrokes. Struggling with mental illness and for recognition from the art community, van Gogh died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the latter part of 1890. Tragically, he didn't get to read a favorable review by the prominent art critic, Albert Aurier, whose praise of van Gogh paintings initiated recognition of van Gogh as one of the most famous painters in art history.
Explore even more of the Hermitage's famous paintings by van Gogh -- it's quite a collection!
Masterpiece Cards examine the 250 paintings most frequently cited in leading art history books. Each Card
reproduces a famous painting
provides vital facts (artist name and lifespan, painting title and size)
features an art historian's commentary about the work
indicates which city and art museum house the painting, making the Cards great for travel.
Check out these art history flashcards!