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Unveiling Van Gogh's Masterpiece: Enter the Enchanting World of 'Cypresses' at The Met!

Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands
Photograph: Collection Kröller - Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands, photo by Rik Klein Gotink

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 'Van Gogh's Cypresses' exhibition is an opportunity for art lovers to witness the unveiling of Van Gogh's most profound and captivating work, where each stroke of the brush breathes life into the majestic cypress trees that captured the artist's heart. 

For two years, Van Gogh's mind was consumed by capturing the essence of the majestic cypress trees that enveloped him during the final phase of his life in France. This exhibition marks a pivotal historical moment, opening its doors on May 22 and enchanting visitors until August 27, 2023.

This remarkable showcase stands as the first of its kind, solely dedicated to the exploration of Van Gogh's profound relationship with the cypress trees. It unites a collection of his most iconic paintings, including the awe-inspiring "Wheat Field with Cypresses" and the celestial masterpiece known as "The Starry Night," alongside a selection of rarely lent works.

Photograph: Richard Lee, courtesy of The Met

This exhibition is a testament to Van Gogh's passion and provides an unrivaled glimpse into his artistic soul. It will transform people's perception of Van Gogh's iconic cypresses, no longer just background elements in his frenzied landscapes. Max Hollein, the visionary Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, said the show is a dream come true. 

The exhibition delves into the profound depths of his visionary interpretation of the commanding cypress trees, challenging preconceived notions with fresh, illuminating insights. It is a once-in-a-lifetime assembly of works that offers a captivating overview while also granting an intimate glimpse into Van Gogh's creative process.

Van Gogh’s Time in Provence, France

During his time in Provence, France, from 1888 to 1890, Van Gogh found himself irresistibly drawn to these flame-like cypresses that adorned the landscape. They were not mere subjects, but recurring stars in his artistic repertoire. In letters to his brother, he expressed an undeniable "need" to capture their essence on canvas, realizing that to truly understand the spirit of his surroundings, he had to study and paint them relentlessly.

The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1993
Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1993

The Met's "Van Gogh's Cypresses" exhibition explores the symbolism of cypress trees as guardians against the region's harsh winds. It features a chronological journey divided into three sections, each offering a unique perspective on Van Gogh's portrayal of these botanical fixtures.

The exhibition includes 40 Van Gogh artworks, each reflecting his commitment to capturing the essence of these captivating cypresses. Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the soul-stirring realm of "Van Gogh's Cypresses" this summer and be forever enchanted by the transcendent power of Van Gogh's masterpieces.

The Roots of his Invention: Arles, February 1888 – May 1889

Van Gogh's fascination with painting trees began to blossom during his 15-month stay in Arles. He expressed a deep yearning for "a starry night with cypresses or perhaps above a field of ripe wheat" in his letters to his brother Theo. This desire drove him to imbue these natural wonders with his distinctive artistic touch, defining his style.

As you explore this section of the exhibition, you'll be captivated by a remarkable drawing from March 1888. It portrays a pair of cypresses and pollard willows, alongside quaint drawbridge scenes and picturesque depictions of blossoming orchards. These exquisite artworks transport you to the very essence of Arles, where Van Gogh's creative spirit thrived.

Bildarchiv Cologne/Art Resource, New York
Photograph: bpk Bildagentur/Wallraf - Richartz - Museum - Fondation Corboud/Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne/Art Resource, New York

Signature Motif: Saint-Rémy, May to September 1889

Amidst the weight of his escalating mental illness, Van Gogh sought solace within the walls of the asylum in Saint-Rémy in June 1889. Paradoxically, it was within this sanctuary that he embarked on a monumental painting campaign, birthing some of his most iconic images of cypresses, as recognized by The Met.

This section of the exhibition delves into the profound role these trees played in Van Gogh's art. Two masterpieces, "The Starry Night" and "Wheat Field with Cypresses," stand side by side, just as they were originally exhibited in Paris. 

The Met also showcases a painting depicting the trees as seen through a window in Van Gogh's studio, and a letter revealing his ongoing obsession with the cypresses.

New Artistic Horizons: Saint-Rémy, Branching Out in Style, October 1889 – May 1890

In the concluding section, you’ll witness Van Gogh's unwavering fixation on the trees during his last months in Provence. Despite a tumultuous state of mental health, he ventured outdoors once more for a "last try" at capturing the trees beneath a starry sky. 

His tenacity and resourcefulness paid off—the exhibition concludes with a breathtaking painting of cypresses juxtaposed with a crescent moon and a wheat field. The vibrant complementary colors in this scene burst forth, immortalizing Van Gogh's remarkable vision.



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