Friday, March 07, 2008

Wheatfield with crows, obscured by a pillar

I was in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam the other week and, of course, looked forward to viewing my favourite Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows. Normally, it is upstairs on the right, in a fine, bright spot, uncluttered, with good, clear views.

However, they've moved it. And what an absolute boorach they've made of it. They couldn't have hung it in a worse place if they'd tried, short of a leaky wall in the boiler room, maybe. What on earth were they thinking about?

It's behind a bloody pillar, for one thing. No views of it from a distance, so you can get the idea that it's significant and come upon it steadily, with rising expectation (think The Night Watch in the next door Rjiksmuseum, for example). No logical flow of paintings, leading the observer to this cataclysmic moment in Van Gogh's life. No logic, no sense, no beauty. It's a disgrace.

This painting is not, as is often suggested, his last. But it is clearly one of the last and, with its low, black crows, is as mournfully and frighteningly portentous as anything I've ever seen. This, you understand immediately, is a climax. But in the Van Gogh museum it is now in the middle of a random selection of paintings. A couple down is another wheatfield painting, but this one light and open and happy - clearly, self-evidently a view and an emotion BEFORE the Wheatfield with crows. Had it been placed in its proper context, before Wheatfield, it would have added so much extra power and resonance. Here, it diminishes it.

I find it extraordinary that a gallery which is devoted to Van Gogh should make such a shambles of showing one of his most significant paintings.


Dean said...

Is it possible to purchase a high quality, life size print of "Wheatfield with Crows" online in the USA? I've seen many outlets (, etc.) but I'm suspicious of the quality. Can your recommend a company? Thanks.

Dean Ford

Tom Conoboy said...

I'm sorry, I've no idea. I live in the UK.

I'm sure there's some reputable print companies. Maybe look at the websites of the major US galleries and see if they link anywhere. They are likely to be more reputable companies.