Sunset at Montmajour critique: Nature is alive with motion in this magnificent Van Gogh failure
Work is almost religious in the fervour of its making
Monday 09 September 2013
The story is an extraordinary one. A Van Gogh was lost to view for more than a century because its purchaser, a Norwegian industrialist, was told by a French expert soon after he bought it in 1908 that it was a fake and, stung, he banished it to the loft. And then, when it did finally emerge, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was reluctant to authenticate it because it was too flawed to be genuine.
Now they have changed their minds, and they are right to do so. Though it is indeed flawed, this is the genuine thing, a Van Gogh painted in 1888, the year of his greatest achievements – a little later in that same year he would be living for three great and tumultuous months with Paul Gauguin and painting his sunflowers. This particular scene is even described, in some detail, in a letter. Van Gogh had clearly pinpointed it with great exactitude before he painted it. But nothing went quite to plan. He arrived at the spot too late in the day. He had to hurry. The mistral was too blustery. It is therefore, in part at least, a botched job. Finally, it proved to be a disappointment to him. But not to us.
It has all the feverish atmosphere of a genuine Van Gogh. It shows a nature virginal in its appeal, alive with movement. The work is almost religious in the fervour of its making.
The landscape feels as if it is ever-shifting. The terrain is harsh, dry, stony. The execution of these gnarled, twisty, rising holm oaks is nervily rapid. And behind all the agitation of that foreground, there is a wheat field, calmer, more settled ground altogether. He wrestles, throughout, with the sheer complexity of the colour – how to render the scene at this particular dying moment. The light was failing as Van Gogh worked, and there is a sense of hurry and frustration – there are passages of in-filling, of near abstraction. It is, in short, a magnificent part-failure of a great discovery.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Jeremy Clarkson courted by Russian Ministry of Defence TV station to present motoring show
One Direction fans campaign to buy the band after Zayn Malik quits
Kay Burley 'bias' against Ed Miliband prompts 130 complaints to Ofcom
Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest