NEW YORK CITY | Today (Monday Augustt 16, 2015) is the last day you can see the overwhelmingly beautiful “Van Gogh: Irises and Roses” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stop reading this. Just go!
Paintings may live a long life, but colors don’t. Colors can fade. Colors can fade.
Take, for example, the vibrant mustard-yellow, the orange-red, and the shifting of violet to dark blue in Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises” (1890). At the Metropolitan Museum, this “Irises” stands out. It is the most distinctive still life among the four paintings on display.
“Van Gogh: Irises and Roses” reunites van Gogh’s four floral still lifes, which he made almost exactly 125 years ago. Two paintings depict irises — the other “Irises” sports a thick white wall. Another two paintings (both painted against a dull green wall) consist of whitish roses.
All four paintings are hung on a single wall. The “Irises” that interests me (seen above) came from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In May 1890 van Gogh completed the four pictures, working on rectangular canvases nearly identical in size (29 by 36 inches). It provides a singular opportunity to reconsider Van Gogh’s artistic aims and the impact of dispersal and color fading on his intended results.
As striking to the eye as it may be, “Irises” from Amsterdam no longer looks exactly the way van Gogh painted it. Originally, he chose a bright but unstable orange-scarlet version of red lake. He knew that the red lake pigments might fade. He blended it with blue to make his violet/dark blue irises.
Over the years, the red lake faded. As a result, the irises are now more blue than violet. (Meanwhile, the roses are now almost completely white.) Flowers die after a period of decorative use. They’re ephemeral. As it turns out, van Gogh’s use of color has been somewhat ephemeral, too.
Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) brought his work in Provence to a close with this exuberant bouquets of spring flowers in which he sought to impart a “calm, unremitting ardor” to his “last touch of the brush.” Painted on the eve of his departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy and conceived as a series or ensemble on a par with the Sunflower decoration painted earlier in Arles, the group includes the Metropolitan Museum’s “Irises” and “Roses” and their counterparts: the upright “Irises” from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the horizontal “Roses” from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
This exhibition opened 125 years to the week that Van Gogh announced to his brother Theo, on May 11 and 13, 1890, that he was working on these “large bouquets.” — Randy Gener
IF YOU GO
Van Gogh: Irises and Roses
May 12–August 16, 2015
Purchase advance tickets to avoid waiting in admission lines. Exhibitions are free with Museum admission
The main building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street), New York, NY 10028. Call 212-535-7710 (TTY: 212-650-2921)