In December, 1997 I had a brief stopover in London, England on the way to holidays in Spain. It was my third visit to London and I was definitely looking forward to another visit to this great city. Of course, the galleries, the British Museum and all of the other memorable sites were high on my list, but I also looked forward to the chance to meet Jane Tomlinson who has contributed her Postcard from Auvers page to this website.
Jane and I had a very nice (though brief) visit in the National Gallery. We chatted over tea about Vincent and what he has come to mean to us. We then went and spent some time in front of the Van Gogh works on display discussing them and what makes them so incredible. My meeting with Jane was a real highlight of my trip.
How unfortunate that the Courtauld is closed until autumn, 1998!!!
Unfortunate, too, that the official Courtauld website makes absolutely no mention of their closing for a year due to renovations. Needless to say, I wasn't very happy to find that, on my first visit to London in almost nine years, one of the main attractions for me was closed. The Courtauld might want to consider adding this information to their website so that other travellers aren't disappointed. When I found the doors closed I sat down on the steps in front and sulked for a few minutes and, during that time, at least three or four other people showed up for a visit and seemed equally disappointed.
The story has a silver lining, though. The self-portrait I mention above is on display at the National Gallery during the Courtauld's renovations, so all was not lost. In addition, a number of the Courtauld's works will be touring during the renovations. There's only one North American stop for the Courtauld exhibit--right here in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario from June 10 to September 21, 1998.
I have two anecdotes from my visit to the National Gallery:
"Now, do you think that Vincent was the type of painter who always put the cap back on his tubes of paint?" he asked the children.
"Noooooo!" was the resounding answer.
Another lovely story he told them was how Vincent himself was like the sunflowers he painted. He described how a sunflower will point its face in direction of the sun and then follow it throughout the course of the day. "Vincent was like that, too," he said. "He followed the sun to the south of France where he did some of his best work." During the course of this entertaining talk, the children were hanging on his every word.
I had to smile a bit (you've got to admire someone with such strong convictions about art) and wandered over to another section in the shop. There were various Van Gogh-related items on display (notepads, greeting cards, etc.). Once again the group of girls came up. The same girl took one look at a keychain portraying Vincent's Chair and again she bellowed: "There it is again! God, I just hate that chair!!!"
Vincent's works have a unique and powerful way of evoking emotions in many people. This was definitely true for this young girl. I quite enjoyed the moment--for better or for worse, Vincent's art has had a tremendous impact on this girl--and many, many others as well.
A non-Van Gogh recommendation: Sir John Soane's Museum (13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, tel. 0171-405-2107): This museum is one of my very favourite stops in London. Only a short walk from the British Museum, Sir John Soane's Museum houses an unbelievable collection of antiquities--Roman, Egyptian, you name it. The museum is actually Sir John Soane's, an architect and collector from the late 1700s, home and is literally packed to the rafters with interesting objects. Whenever I hear that anyone is going to visit London, I always tell them that their first stop should be Sir John Soane's Museum.
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