It takes effort to come to grips with the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Seemingly every aspect of his brief career—roughly ten years—and his short life—he killed himself at thirty-six—has been so thoroughly probed, analyzed, documented, and even popularized that it’s almost impossible to see his best known efforts. Despite the obvious intensity of feeling that emanates from Van Gogh’s paintings, it’s difficult to ignore the horrible familiarity of those writhing sunflowers and thick-set figures, those tipped interiors and sun-baked landscapes, in order to confront them freshly and directly. It’s not easy to get past the distancing layers of association surrounding them, banish the memories of the countless reproductions of his work—not to mention the pop culture versions of his biography—and concentrate on what is really there before us.

Whatever we think about Walter...


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