Celebrating the Letters of Van Gogh

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Thanks to the a new exhibition called (aptly enough) Van Gogh’s Letters: The Artist Speaks on view at the Van Gogh Museum in Holland from Oct 9, 2009 till Jan 3, 2010 you can now discover them anew.

More than 120 letters (There are 902 total, 800 of which are held at the Van Gogh Museum) will be on view along side the works that the letters reference. That would be amazing to see. It’s not likely I’ll be in Holland before Jan so I can only imagine.

The letters, by the way, are rarely seen by the public at large due to their sheer fragility and sensitivity to light – so it’s an amazing treat that the VGM has put them on view.

So what’s the big deal about these letters? For those who have not read them, they chronicle via the written word the short, emotional, eventful life that Van Gogh lived with a large sum of them in direct correspondence with his brother and champion supporter Theo Van Gogh.

When I first read the letters many years ago, they were a little hard to get through as the are just laden with struggle, sadness and isolation. But I have recently read them again and I now see glimpses of hope in them. Maybe because I’m trying to, who knows, but I see the hope and the faith Van Gogh had for nature and the beauty of this world.

What also makes these letters really remarkable is how he, at times, intermingled visuals with his writing. They were often included to show Theo (or others) what subjects he was working on and some compositional sketches about them.

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This exhibition is actually a culmination of a 15 year joint venture between the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Of particular interest is also a complete accessible (and free) online web edition of all 902 letters to be found at: Van Gogh Letters. Additionally, a new 6 volume publication, Vincent van Gogh – The Letters. The complete illustrated and annotated edition, that comes with all sorts of new translations, notes and illustrations of the more than 2,000 works mentioned in the letters.

These letters really are amazing and well worth investing again with all the new information and research the Van Gogh Museum has completed with them.

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