The Last Picture Show




Sunday 18th September is the last day if you want to see some of the ultimate paintings of Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh.

The place: Madrid, Spain. The venue: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The address: Palacio de Villahermosa, Paseo del Prado, 8. Telephone for advanced ticket reservations: 902.488.488. Entry fees are € 5 for the van Gogh show, € 7 for van Gogh and another temporary show, and € 12, if you want to see van Gogh plus everything else at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.

Now, van Gogh may be one of the best known names in Modern art, mainly because of his severed ear, and also because one of his paintings was the most expensive one ever sold at the time, Irises, when it was auctioned in 1987 by Sotheby’s, New York, for 53,900,000 USD and acquired but never paid for by Australian tycoon, Alan Bond. It was subsequently re-sold for a considerably lesser sum and is now the property of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Ca.

But did you know that this grand master of the brushstroke only ever took up art in 1880, only ten years before he died, aged 37, in 1890?

Allow me to quote the following from the Madrid museum’s website:

On 20th May 1890, Vincent van Gogh got off the train at Auvers-sur-Oise, a village situated 35 kms from Paris. The artist had recently left the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy and came to Auvers in search of better health and tranquillity, hoping to start a new life and a new cycle in his work as a painter. Just two months later, however, on 27th July, in the fields near the Château de Léry, van Gogh shot himself with a revolver, dying in agony in the early morning of 29th July.

While van Gogh was still a patient at Saint-Rémy, his brother Theo had been looking for a peaceful rural location close to Paris where Vincent could lead an independent life but discreetly watched over by a trusted friend. The painter Camille Pissarro suggested the name of Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a doctor, amateur artist and old friend of some of the Impressionist painters including Pissarro himself, Cézanne and others. Gachet lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, which was one hour by train from the capital.

Van Gogh’s Auvers period was brief but extremely productive: in just seventy days the artist produced more than seventy paintings and around thirty drawings. This frenzied rhythm suggests a desperate race against time, as if the artist himself felt his days to be numbered. Before his arrival in Auvers, Vincent had spent three days in Paris at his brother’s house where he had been able to see his own paintings, which literally covered the walls of the apartment and were piled up under the bed, the sofa and under the cupboards. This experience of seeing all his work together for the first time had a profound affect on van Gogh and would determine his work over the following weeks, the last of his life. His final paintings would be a sort of recapitulation or epilogue to his entire career.

End of quote.

If you happen to be in Madrid over the next week or two, why not allow yourself to indulge in some beautiful colours and the vibrant spirit of a desperate man who must have painted, intuiting that his time was up as an artist, and as a tired human soul walking this planet.


If you prefer to appreciate life, and art, and the life of an artist, from the comfort of your armchair, I suggest the viewing of a movie called Van Gogh (1991), directed by French director, Maurice Pialat, with Jacques Dutronc in the lead role. The film offers an insight into the artist’s last 60 days at Auvers. The acting to me seemed more than convincing. I enjoyed it greatly.



Should you, however, not be able to make it to Madrid, because you happen to be nearer to Barcelona, here is a different suggestion: Picasso, another mad genius, but him with both ears intact.

The American photographer, model and war journalist, Lee Miller (1907-1977), wife of Roland Penrose, was lucky enough to befriend Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter but living in France. She documented that relationship through thousands of photographs. Some of her black & white photographs are now shown at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona in an exhibition entitled Picasso in Private, which is also on for two more weeks, until 16th September.

The place: Barcelona, Spain. The venue: Museo Picasso. The address: c/Montcada, 15-23. Telephone for ticket reservations: 93.256.3022. Admission is € 6 for the Picasso/Miller show, and € 8,50 if you want to see the Picasso photos by Lee Miller plus everything else at the Picasso museum, i. e. some real Picasso works.



I think that both shows merit a recommendation. Both artists certainly do, in my books. Lee Miller does, as well.


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