Van Gogh in Paris | Interview with Curator Nicholas Maclean

30th September 2013
Tara Pahari
cut20 Van Gogh in Paris | Interview with Curator Nicholas MacleanVincent van Gogh.The Blute-fin Windmill, June-July 1886; Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait, December 1886-January 1887; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The Laundress, 1886-87

In September 2013, the Eykyn Maclean gallery will present Van Gogh in Paris. This will be a landmark exhibition, which will explore the years 1886 to 1888 when the artist was living and working in Paris. The exhibition will also include works from some of Van Gogh’s contemporaries in order to compliment his works. We caught up with curator and gallery partner, Nicholas Maclean, to ask him more about the exhibition.

Nicholas Maclean ©Philip Sinden Courtesy of Eykyn Maclean Van Gogh in Paris | Interview with Curator Nicholas Maclean

Nicholas Maclean ©Philip Sinden, Courtesy of Eykyn Maclean

Why did you choose to curate an exhibition about Van Gogh?

The subject of Van Gogh working in Paris and the artists who influenced him has rarely been treated in an exhibition, and this focused show aims to analyse a period that had a huge influence on the artist and on the Paris art world. As a private gallery, most of our business is conducted discreetly, helping our clients to build museum-quality collections. Our exhibitions allow us to engage with a topic in depth and with a wider audience, many of whom will travel to London for Frieze week. Our previous exhibitions have covered both great 20th century artists, such as Matisse and Giacometti, and post-war luminaries including Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. In each instance, and especially with the Van Gogh in Paris exhibition, it is highly satisfying to bring together a group of works which shed new light on a moment in an artist’s development.

What were some of the challenges in curating this exhibition?

We generally handle very high calibre works, and so our challenge was to source exceptional works by Van Gogh and his contemporaries, which fit into our theme. As you can imagine, most works by Van Gogh are in museums so it was a matter of working closely with both institutions and private collectors to secure loans of works that would tell the story of Van Gogh’s time in Paris. We commissioned Royal Academy curator Ann Dumas and Marina Ferretti, Director of the Musée des Impressionnismes in Giverny to write an essay for the catalogue and her scholarship provides a fascinating insight into this period.

What sets the exhibition Van Gogh in Paris apart from other exhibitions of Van Gogh’s work?

Vincent van Gogh. Wheatfield June 1888 P. and N. de Boer Foundation Amsterdam PLEASE SEE CATALOGUE KEY FOR FULL CAPTION1 Van Gogh in Paris | Interview with Curator Nicholas Maclean

Vincent van Gogh, 'Wheatfield' (June 1888)

Van Gogh’s time in Paris is one of his most intriguing periods. There is no correspondence between Theo, his brother, during this period as they were living together, so the paintings themselves are key to understanding his influences at this time.  By showing eight works by Van Gogh alongside works by artists such as Monet, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and other painters, our goal was to show his creative context and the gradual transformation in Van Gogh’s approach to painting during these two years. This exhibition stands out because we have secured loans from important private collections many of which are rarely seen by the public. In addition Eykyn Maclean London is on the second floor of a Georgian town house in Mayfair, which creates an intimate environment to view the works.

Could you tell us a little bit more about why Van Gogh’s two years in Paris were so pivotal for his work?

During those two years in Paris, Van Gogh was introduced to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters including Monet, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Van Gogh would have seen works such as the Monet included in our exhibition at the gallery where his brother worked as a dealer and he spent time with the younger Post-Impressionists at Toulouse-Lautrec’s evening soirées – particularly Gauguin who later lived with him in Arles. Over the whole period, his style altered from a dark palette associated with the Dutch tradition into the bright colours and more pronounced brushstrokes with which he is most associated today.

While in Paris he also built on his passion for Japanese prints and began collecting them avidly, putting on an exhibition of his collection in 1887. The impact of Japanese prints on Van Gogh’s work cannot be overestimated; ‘all my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,’ he later said to his brother. He used the prints as the basis for some of his own works and there are several key works by Hiroshige in our exhibition.

Emile Bernard. Study for The Hour of the Flesh 1885 6 Private collection PLEASE SEE CATALOGUE KEY FOR FULL CAPTION1 Van Gogh in Paris | Interview with Curator Nicholas Maclean

Emile Bernard, Study for 'The Hour of the Flesh' (1885-6)

Van Gogh has been studied so extensively, yet there are still new and fascinating insights into his life emerging. How much more do you think there is to uncover about his life and works?

There are few artists that capture the imagination like Van Gogh.  His career lasted only ten years and new discoveries around such a highly researched artist are of course rare. Our exhibition on Van Gogh’s period in Paris, while reiterating scholarly insight on the artist, is of interest in focusing on his relationship with other artists, for example in Marina Ferretti’s essay on the influence of Signac on van Gogh.  In addition, advances in technology are improving our knowledge about how artists worked, how we identify paintings and, of course, very occasionally new works are discovered which cause great excitement.