Portraying Van Gogh: biography, mythology and new research

Showcasing Art History

What is left to say on the world’s most famous painter? Coinciding with the first ever exhibition devoted to Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits across his entire career, to be held at The Courtauld Gallery from February to May 2022, this course seeks to challenge conventional thinking and present new research on Van Gogh. It aims to go beyond the myth to rediscover the man and the artist.

The perception of Van Gogh as a tortured painter and lone genius began shortly after his death and has taken over a century to dispel. Many assumptions remain. Delivered by a range of specialists, the lectures will showcase the findings of recent archival and technical research to give a greater and richer understanding of Van Gogh’s life and artistic ambitions.

The course will be divided into five sections of two lectures each. The first section will be devoted to a reassessment of Van Gogh’s biography, which has so often shaped the way that his works, and his self-portraits in particular, have been (mis)understood. It will be followed by in-depth looking at some of his greatest paintings to get into the mind of the artist and will include new technical insights into his artistic practice. Van Gogh will then be placed into a wider context; with lectures re-examining his network and group of friends to demonstrate how Van Gogh was very much embedded in the French art world.

The last two sections will consider his legacy among artists and critics, as well as the forces that shaped our modern understanding of Van Gogh. Of particular interest will be the role played by Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the artist’s sister-in-law, who publicised Van Gogh’s importance after his death and almost single-handedly steered the market for his works. A long overlooked figure, she was the focus of a ten-year research project at the Van Gogh Museum, which has culminated in the recent publication of a fascinating biography. Finally, the lectures will investigate the shaping of Van Gogh’s myth throughout the 20th– and 21st century in film and key exhibitions.

Our speakers are: Dr Karen Serres (The Courtauld Gallery); Dr Martin Bailey (Van Gogh specialist, independent scholar and curator); Professor Aviva Burnstock (The Courtauld); Professor James Hall (University of Southampton); Dr Hans Luijten (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam); Dr Caroline Levitt (The Courtauld); Dr Anne Puetz (The Courtauld)

Moderator: Dr Anne Puetz (The Courtauld)

Course delivery methods

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