Samsara. Van Gogh’s Prison & Great Works of Art.

I spent most of the day in LA today at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art where two exhibits were winding down their final days in Los Angeles. The first was a sampling of Old Masters, Impressionists and Modern art of French Masterworks from The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow. Among the highlights were Monet’s White Lilies, and works from Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh. Many of these paintings shown for the first time in Los Angeles.

What struck me perhaps strongest was Van Gogh’s Prison Courtyard. While the jpg here hardly does justice to the color, lighting and mood of this dark work Vincent painted while he was in the asylum at Saint Rémy. Perhaps one of his last paintings, e died less than six months later. The dark, depressing mood reminded me a bit of one of his earliest works, The Potato Eaters, which I was lucky to see at the National Gallery a couple years ago. Both of these paintings are far from the Sunflowers and Daisies one thinks of when Van Gogh’s name is mentioned. Here the one prisoner who’s gaze captures the viewer seems almost a self-portrait of Van Gogh with his light hair and resemblance to the artist. Trapped in an asylum, prison or life. And wandering in circles. Wow. It always has amazed me that the great and famous Dutch painter painted for less than 8 years, yet in those 8 years a body of work that has captured the imagination of artists, collectors and casual fans for generations.

The other exhibit at LACMA was paintings and sculpture from Modigliani. While I appreciate his work, especially his nudes, I found that painting after painting were portraits of mostly women with their hands folded. Long faces and dark colorless or grey eyes. Some are quite intriguing. But there’s no diversity here. I guess you’d have to say he had his “look” or his “brand image” and stuck to it. Consistently and focused, you know for sure it’s Madigliani. Perhaps of more interest to me were his sculptures. These tended to draw on the long faces of his paintings, but you could definitely detect an influence from African and tribal art as the angular and geometric shapes pointed to such influence.

If you find yourself in Los Angeles before October 13th, 2003 take a few hours out of your time and visit LACMA. The exhibits are truly great.

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