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Posts tagged ‘Van Gogh’

My Van Gogh Bedroom heads for Beijing!

A few months ago, I was on the brink of being inspired by another great artist in creating a further painting in my interpretative abstract collection when I received an important email. It was an artist who has inspired me several times before, the one and only master of colour and of passionately applied brush strokes, Vincent Van Gogh. The email I received flew into my inbox almost at the moment when I applied my signature to canvas. I had been contacted by the prestigious Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. An opportunity had arisen, they told me, to submit contemporary artworks inspired by Van Gogh to be considered for a new globally important project. I did not hesitate to apply, and amongst those works I sent was the new work I had been working on when their email had been received: Vincent’s Bedroom, an abstractive interpretation of Van Gogh’s most famous work depicting his bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles, and presented here on The Daily Norm for the first time.

Vincent Bedroom FINAL

Vincent’s Bedroom (after Van Gogh) (2016, ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

A few weeks passed, and I was delighted to receive the news that not only had this new painting been accepted by the prestigious museum, but likewise two others painted when the same Dutch genius inspired me in the past: The Sweet Potato Eaters (based on Van Gogh’s famous The Potato Eaters) and my Norm version of his Self-Portrait with bandaged ear.

The months rolled by, during which time I waited in excited anticipation to hear from the museum what would happen to the images of my work. Thrillingly, it has now been announced that digital reproductions of my paintings will be included as part of a brand new interactive exhibition, the Meet Vincent Van Gogh experience, which will premier in Beijing in China before going off on tour. I may not have travelled anywhere near as far, but I am overwhelmed with pride that images of my paintings will be going in my place to the other side of the globe.

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The original inspiration: Bedroom in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh (first version, 1888 – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

All that remains is to wish the Van Gogh Museum the best of luck in this exiting new venture, and to thank them in turn for their incredible support of my work. It’s not the first time I have been lucky enough to have my work included in an installation by that world-renowned museum, but it is a uniquely new experience for my works to go to Asia. You never know, I may get over to China myself to see them.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com

Provence Odyssey | Saint-Rémy: Day 6 – In search of Van Gogh (Part 2)

As Van Gogh neared the final climax of his prematurely shortened life, his movements around France, and the paintings which resulted, became more and more dominated by his health needs. In May 1889, after his famous ear self-mutilation incident in Arles and the hospital stay which followed, Van Gogh moved to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, some 20 miles North-East of Arles in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains, in order to voluntarily commit himself into the care of an asylum. That asylum was the hospital of Saint Paul-de-Mausole, set within the tranquil grounds of a former monastery to the south of Saint Remy, and was where Van Gogh set up home, with one room and an adjoining studio, for the next year of his life. Come May 1890, Van Gogh was off again in pursuit of medical assistance, moving to his final destination of Auvers-sur-Oise, this time to be nearer to Dr Paul Gachet. He would be dead some 3 months later.

Despite the nature of what some could see as a mental crisis dictating Van Gogh’s relocation to Saint-Remy, there are two undeniable factors about his stay in the town and the output that resulted. The first is that the asylum and the town to which he relocated are both exceptionally beautiful examples of Provence at its finest. The second is that, understandably, the paintings which resulted from this time are some of Van Gogh’s very best.

Painted in Saint-Rémy…

Wheatfield with Cypresses

Wheatfield with Cypresses

Irises

Irises

Mountainous landscape behind the hospital Saint Paul

Mountainous landscape behind the hospital Saint Paul

The Olive Trees

The Olive Trees

Cypresses

Cypresses

It was consequently to Saint Remy that we proceeded on this third leg of our Provence Odyssey, as much guided by the promise of a pretty mid-countryside town as by the legacy of Van Gogh which seeps into its very foundations. While a stroll around the pretty boutique-filled village proved that the town is abundant with its own Provençal charms, albeit on a far smaller scale than Avignon or Arles before it, it was in pursuance of Van Gogh’s story that we begun our explorations of Saint-Rémy, and the out of town stroll which this trail required.

Unlike Arles, whose exploration of the Van Gogh story left me somewhat wanting (there were postcards sure, and a café mock up on the Place du Forum, but where were the museums, the recreations of paintings, the story?), Saint-Rémy’s small but ample tourist office provides an excellent self-guided Van Gogh walking tour, which takes you out of the village and into the stunning surrounding countryside, in order to visit the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum where Van Gogh lived, and see recreations of his many Saint-Rémy based paintings along the route.

Right where he painted it - the Van Gogh walk brings his paintings to life

Right where he painted it – the Van Gogh walk brings his paintings to life

Van Gogh's hospital bed and easel

Van Gogh’s hospital bed and easel

Taking this route, we were delighted with the pastures new before us, strolling as we were along small residential and field-lined roads which we may never otherwise have discovered. While much of the landscape is a little more developed now than it might have been in VG’s day, as we neared the asylum, wide expanses of olive tree-lined fields started to open up before us, and with the wild craggy outline of the Alpilles mountains in the backdrop, and swirly dark cypress trees popping up all over the landscape, it really started to feel as though some of Van Gogh’s most famous landscape paintings were coming to life before our very eyes. For as the little VG walk soon made clear, the artist produced some of his best works in this little town, painting at his swirliest (for example his famous Starry Night and his depiction of cypress trees and swirly leafed olive trees) and his most imaginative.

Painted in the Saint Paul hospital…

Trees in the Garden of the Hospital Saint Paul

Trees in the Garden of the Hospital Saint Paul

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

The gardens of Saint Paul hospital

Stone Bench in the garden of Saint Paul

Stone Bench in the garden of Saint Paul

Entrance Hall of Saint Paul

Entrance Hall of Saint Paul

And no wonder. As we turned into the high-stone walled gardens of Saint Paul-de-Mausole, filled with multi-coloured flowers moving slowly in the light breeze, I could not help but feel inspired myself. This reaction only grew, as we wandered through the former monastery, gazing in wonder and the beautiful sun drenched cloister, and then, behind the building, the stunningly manicured Provencal gardens, loaded with rows of lavender, sunflowers and poppy fields, creating the kind of floral backdrop which would have had Van Gogh painting feverishly all day long.

The landscapes and the hospital that inspired Van Gogh…

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With only a camera to hand, Dominik and I met our own inspiration through the medium of photography, taking hundreds of photos of the flowers, the lavender, the old monastery and the surrounding landscapes, strolling around the gardens, mesmerized by the scent of flowers, and the low murmuring of hundreds of bees buzzing around the lavender bushes. This was true Provence – the true stunning countryside that the guidebooks had all promised.

Eventually we broke away, not only from the asylum, but also from our Van Gogh trail, for what we found just down the road from Saint Paul was an entirely unexpected, quite stunning historical treat – a find of such exciting archeological proportions that I’m going to devote an entire post to it! For that – see you tomorrow. And in the meantime, I leave you with the lavender, the poppies, the olive trees and the sunflowers that so inspired Van Gogh, and now me in equal measure.

Provence at its finest…

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A demain.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

 

Provence Odyssey | Arles: Day 5 – In search of Van Gogh (Part 1)

The vivid kaledoscopic colours of Van Gogh’s works are renowned throughout the world: the dazzling bright yellow sunflowers, his multi-shaded green and blue self portrait with a shock of orange hair and beard, the twin piece works depicting his and Gauguin’s chairs as well as his now famous bedroom in vivid multi-colour, and his Yellow House, set against a bright blue sky – all characterise Van Gogh’s great affinity with vivid colouration and the depiction of almost feverish energy and zeal. Yet it only takes a quick glimpse at Van Gogh’s earlier works painted in Holland – the Potato Eaters, the Brown peasant faces, the gloomy interiors and flat dull landscapes – to realise just how instrumental his move down to Provence in 1888 was. And one city in fact helped to shape the unique colour driven artist who we know and love today: Arles.

It was in Arles that Van Gogh lived in the Yellow House, where he painted his famous Sunflowers in preparation for a visit by fellow-artist (and colourist) Paul Gauguin, on whose river bend he depicted the famous Starry Night over the Rhone, and where the artist is credited with making his final breakthrough as an artist of sensational colour, of unmistakeable feverish expressionism and of an undiluted enthusiasm to depict the world around him with speed and a remarkable resulting oeuvre.

Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888, after a spell in Paris where he had become influenced by the impressionists. Thus, he had already broken free of the sombre earth tones inspired by his homeland of Holland, and started dappling in lighter, fresher scenes, but nothing compared with the cornucopia of colourful and free expression on which he would embark when taking inspiration from the South. Having made the move, Van Gogh became dazzled by the brighter light and therefore clear unmuddied coloured which result. He began to see art in the curving shadow-filled feathery forms of cypress trees, in the undulating tapestry of fields beneath rising mountain landscapes, in the vivid blooms of cherry blossom and irises and sunflowers, and in Arles’s streets, its inviting cafes and its people. All of this made Van Gogh the artist we know today, and so many of his most famous paintings were undertaken here, in Arles, as decoration for his Yellow House.

The Yellow House (1888)

The Yellow House (1888)

Van Gogh's Chair (1888)

Van Gogh’s Chair (1888)

Bedroom in Arles (1888)

Bedroom in Arles (1888)

Still Life: Vase with 12 Sunflowers (1888)

Still Life: Vase with 12 Sunflowers (1888)

However Van Gogh’s appetite for decorating the Yellow House with such speed was largely because he was awaiting a visit from fellow-post-impressionist Paul Gauguin in the hope that he could set up something of an artists’ community in Arles. Yet it was that same visit that became the catalyst for Van Gogh’s infamous ear-chopping incident, and what followed was a stay in Arles’ general hospital, followed by an extended stay, in 1889, in the sanitarium at Saint Remy-de-Provence.

With this background in mind, it was in the footsteps of Van Gogh that we embarked on our last day in Arles, starting off at the Place du Forum, where his famous depiction of a cafe terrace is rather unfortunately replicated today for tourists, so that the real cafe is not the cafe as would have been visited by Van Gogh, but the cafe as painted by Van Gogh. For in their attempts to lure the tourists, the cafe has replicated Van Gogh’s painting to such an extent that they’ve painted the walls in a kind of colour was of yellow and a mouldy looking green. While those colours worked perfectly in the context of Van Gogh’s depiction, in reality they look try-hard and naff. Which is why, asides from taking photos, we avoided eating at the now eponymously named Van Gogh cafe like the plague.

Cafe Terrace on the Place Du Forum Arles, at Night (1888)

Cafe Terrace on the Place Du Forum Arles, at Night (1888)

The cafe as it stands today

The cafe as it stands today

And at night

And at night

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The next main Van Gogh spot is the Arles hospital, whose most iconic feature is the floral courtyard at its heart, again no doubt decked thus because of the reference made to it in Van Gogh’s painting, but nonetheless pleasing to wander into. Yet there was very little more to it, and in fact that much goes for all of Arles. While the Van Gogh references can be seen in postcards sold at every souvenir shop, there is not a single painting by Van Gogh in the tow – a crying shame considering how much the town inspired him. Meanwhile a cultural space opened in his name appeared not to exist when we searched for it, and we were told in a shop close to the hospital that a Van Gogh museum will open in a few years. But nothing for now. Meanwhile both the yellow house, and the famous bedroom in it are long gone – bombed in the war.

Garden of the Hospital at Arles (1888)

Garden of the Hospital at Arles (1888)

The hospital today

The hospital today

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However, unperturbed by our lack of success, there was one more point on the Arles map that we had to look at, both when bringing our Arles Van Gogh search to an end, and also when leaving Arles for good. Yes, packed up and ready to move on to our next stop on this Provence Odyssey, and heading out towards the bus station, we passed by the River Rhône, now mercifully still, largely, of the winds which had dominated its path the previous day, and stopped at the point where Van Gogh had painted perhaps my favourite of all his works: Starry Night over the Rhône. Sadly, yesterday’s wind had prevented our viewing this scene by night, but in any event, the proliferation of large boats at the site undoubtedly mean that the view would be much changed now from Van Gogh’s day – a story which rings true of so much of this city.

Starry Night over the Rhone (1888)

Starry Night over the Rhone (1888)

The view today

The view today

But just as Van Gogh left Arles to head for some respite in nearby Saint Remy, so too did we follow his path, leaving the city now to head into Provence’s lush countryside, to continue not just our search of Van Gogh, but also our Provence Odyssey.

Onto Saint Remy - where Van Gogh painted: The Starry Night (1888)

Onto Saint Remy – where Van Gogh painted: The Starry Night (1888)

See you in Saint Remy!

Provence Odyssey | Avignon to Arles: Day 3 – From Popes to Emperors

When I was considering an itinerary for our Provence tour this summer, it felt a bit like closing my eyes and pinning a pin on the donkey. With so much beauty ripe for exploration, where on earth would we go? One of the first factors was transport – not wanting to incur the costs of hiring a car, nor least the fear factor of driving on the opposite side of the road, we had to be in places that were public transport accessible. And given that we were taking the Eurostar down from London, Avignon – the first Provence stop on the high-speed line – seemed like a very good place to start. But beyond that, the rolling purple hills of Provence were very much our oyster, so to speak. So following my great passion for art, I decided to plan our itinerary following something of an art historical theme, taking the trail from Arles, which today has become synonymous with both Van Gogh and Picasso (who loved the bullfighting there while in exile from his beloved Spain), and onto Saint Remy de Provence – where Van Gogh self-admitted into an asylum, and finally ending up at Aix-en-Provence, the city of Cezanne, and this year a key player in the Marseille-Provence European City of Culture festivities.

Starting off a new day

Starting off a new day

So today it was onto Arles, the city famous for being the location of so many of Van Gogh’s paintings, from his Yellow House and Night over Arles, to his iconic sunflowers, and for generally being the reason why his paintings metamorphosed so markedly from the dull browns of Holland to the bright vivid colours of Provence. But it’s a city famous too for its Roman heritage – the great Roman amphitheatre standing at its heart is one of the best preserved amphitheatres from Roman times, and has literally dictated the shape of the town, whose streets wind so perceptively around it. But before we wind back the clock from medieval Avignon to Roman Arles, let me take a moment to bid a farewell to Avignon, whose charming ancient streets bore further fruit on this morning of our departure – a few hours further to explore this surprising city before our 20 minute train journey south to Arles departed at 2pm.

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Indeed, before parting with Avignon, further treats were indeed in store. For a day which started off with a deliciously simple, vividly colourful and dangerously buttery breakfast at another typical local bar continued with similar sensual ravishment, as we walked out towards the city’s old dyers district, where the tiny River Sorgue emerges from underground and runs alongside the Rue des Teinturiers reminiscent of a dutch canal. In the glinting sunshine, this street was charm in urban form, providing the perfect platform for a laid back and tranquil walk along the very manifestation of the old historical city itself.

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But just as the River Sorgue pours outwards into the wider dominant Rhône, so too did we head to that same main artery of the city, bidding adieu to this city by crossing the river on a bridge that is, mercifully, in one piece, in order to capture the best vantage point of Avignon, which of course had to include the Papal Palace and the famous broken Pont d’Avignon. Photographs collated, and luggage picked up, we headed to the city of Arles, back a few centuries to the time when the Roman Empire extended its special brand of classical civilisation to what was then savage Gaul, and developed towns such as Arles into little gems glinting on the far reaches of the empire.

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Just as all roads are supposed to lead to Rome, so too do the narrow maze-like streets of Arles descend upon the imposing form of this almost perfectly intact amphitheatre, and it was to this great monument that our paths inevitably led within hours of our arrival in the city. Into the great monument we went, which in stark contrast to Rome’s iconic amphitheatre, is very much in use for bull fights and other theatrical festivities, so consequently what we were viewing was an auditorium in the round, set up with a floating metal seating structure, away from the now ancient and only partially constituted former seating of the original stadium. Like any amphitheatre, the building doesn’t differentiate much from one arch way to another, but walking around the great 360 degree structure was attraction enough to enable us to appreciate the magnificence of this surviving structure, and revel in this modern day connection back to our ancient past.

C'est Moi - at the Amphitheatre

C’est Moi – at the Amphitheatre

Having had our fill of Arles’ beating heart, we could do little else but take in the inherent character and charm of this city, whose houses are similarly shuttered like those in Avignon, but somehow more colourful and often more decorative. Arles lacks the great impactful squares which Avignon boasts, but that is because here, a city has very clearly developed around history, rather than making history in its own construction as in Avignon. The result is a maze-like development, which is not always straightforward to explore, but getting lost in these charming narrow streets is half the fun of the adventure. And ripe for adventure this city surely is, a venture now begun in this second leg of our Provence Odyssey.

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More from Arles, coming soon.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Tuscany Part I: Sea, Sand and plenty of Sunflowers

While the Norms have been up and down the great boot of Italy, I have been indulging in a more relaxing affair – I’m just back from a sumptuous and sensation-tickling trip to Tuscany and the electric city of Bologna, and as a result I have so much to share that I barely even know where to begin. With sights, sounds and flavour sensations as ripe and abounding as the offerings of Italy in the hot months of the summer, I am felicitous with fresh inspiration, enlivened by my experience, and freshly fulfilled by a holiday of multisensoral pleasure.

Perfectly aligned parasols and loungers

I begin my tale in the balmy fresh light of a lazy Saturday morning. I had jetted out to Pisa after work, and arriving close to midnight, the only impression I had thus far gauged of my seaside Tuscan location was the lucid clarity of the fresh sea air (a marked-comparison with central London) and the enticing smell of the pine forests that loll lazily down to the sea edge. In the morning, it was my eyes which gorged ravenously upon the visual sensations all around. From our hotel window, an expanse of golden soft sand, tidily raked every morning, was broken only by the perfect alignment of a hundred blue parasols sat atop neatly arranged loungers. In the distance, green hills were faded into a pale turquoise because of their distance, while further yet still, an almost translucent outline of the island of Elba rose mysteriously above the horizon. While my eyes took in the scene, accompanied by a pure light warmed by the yellow lustre of an early Mediterranean sun, my ears pricked up to the gentle swish of an intermittent wave sliding, rather than crashing, upon the sandy shore. No angry traffic here, no rush of suited Londoners running to squeeze their way onto a delayed, crowded tube. Rather, the only people were those beach workers, silently preparing the space for the later arrival of tourists and locals alike, while nearby, the steamer of a large coffee machine pumped into action for a day full of making creamy cappuccinos and rich espressos.

It was straight to the said coffee bar that we headed, a moment to which I had been looking forward ever since booking my flights some months ago. Nothing surpasses the cappuccinos in Italy, whose coffee is creamy, not bitter, and whose foam is indulgent and thick. Gone is the Cafe Nero takeaway and the sprint to the office – here we had all the time in the world to indulge on the beach’s edge, before the sun warmed to its midday ferocity, and the crowds descended.

True italian cappuccino

The crowds descend with coloured parasols aplenty

When that moment came, we were already gone. My partner took me to see a sight which was bound to get my camera clicking and my artist juices running – a nearby field of sunflowers bursting from the dry soil in a sea of vivid yellow, contrasting sensationally with the deep blue sky all around. Standing in that field, surrounded by flowers equalling me in height was truly incredibly. It was no wonder that these flowers had inspired Van Gogh so. My favourites were the older, dying flowers, with the large human-sized faces, loaded with an incredibly intricate pattern of seed pods, the petals now wilting and drying up, but the flower, in the last stages of its life, still desperately faced towards the sun, turned to its master in relishing the last days of its existence. In Italian, sunflowers are called girasoli, which literally translates as it turns sun – and true to form, it was remarkable to note how these amazing flowers were all turned in one direction, a carpet of yellow faced towards the sun, and a wall of green when seen from behind.

A carpet of yellow

And another of green

I could have stayed amongst the sunflowers all day, but alas, my photographic adventure did constitute some form of trespass onto this farmland, albeit in the name of art. We returned thereafter to safer pastures – to the incredibly vineyard views of a vineyard known to my partner’s brother, and a nearby field with large bails of hay perfect to inspired Monet himself.

Hay for Monet

What Milan exudes in fashion and Bologna offers in food, Tuscany has in countryside views which stun and inspire in equal measure – I’m giving a whole post over to these lavish landscapes tomorrow. But the great benefit of where I was staying (Donoratico) was that having had my fill of inland views under a progressively searing sun, the coast with its relieving sea breezes was never far away, and it was to the soft sandy beach of Donoratico that I returned that afternoon, wiling away the hours splashing around in soft silky seawater with light pale-ocre sand squishing softly beneath my toes, until the sun retained its former morning pallor, before retreating back under the horizon in hues of orange, then pink and then a devastating crimson red. Until tomorrow…

Sunset over the Alta Maremma coast

Amsterdam Part II: Insight into two masters of introspection: Van Gogh and Anne Frank

That familiar pang in my legs and feet, pulsing with a heavy burning sensation, is always a good sign at the end of a day spent exploring a new city. It tends to signify a heavy day’s sightseeing and usually a substantial intake of cultural enrichment… Galleries and museums are deceptively exhausting. Why hasn’t anyone invented a gallery on a conveyor belt, whereby the viewer takes a cinema-like reclining seat, and lets the art do the moving? Awaiting this invention, as we must, I nevertheless ensured that my second day in Amsterdam took in the remaining cultural hot points, despite the considerable walking distance between them.

The Bedroom (1888)

Almond Blossom (1890)

First on the list was the all important Van Gogh museum, which delivered masterpieces aplenty in a purpose built, airy space which more than catered for the influx of visitors present. Oh what a contrast to the last time I saw some of these works, at the Royal Academy’s Van Gogh exhibition, when all semblance of civility was lost somewhere around the Dutch peasant paintings, leading to all out war between Royal Academy Friends and foes alike as we scrambled to peak a view at Van Gogh’s chair or his whimsical poplars, not to mention get within an inch of that all important blood stained last letter to Theo. No, no, here one could more or less flit between paintings without too much fuss, leaving each room fully satisfied by the breadth of work on show, the logical chronological ordering of the works, and the provision of one masterpiece after another: The Potato Eaters, the Yellow House, Van Gogh’s bedroom, Gauguin’s chair, the Sunflowers and so on. I also left a little more informed about his technique. He had not adopted this often clumsy, thickly layered style of painting because of any lack of skill. Rather, he had been heavily influenced by the trends of Paris at that time, where pointillism had taken over from Impressionism, and figurative works were becoming more and more symbolic and abstracted. He was also influenced by Japanese art, with its flat, two dimensional representation and black outlines. By contrast, his first efforts – in which he concentrated on peasant portraits and bucolic landscapes – on the back of an absence of any professional training whatsoever, were really quite impressive. It seems he really did have naturally inherent talent, and plenty of it too.

I was of course thrilled to see the original of The Potato Eaters, which inspired me to paint my own family portrait last year. I was however rather frustrated that the work was displayed behind highly reflective glass which did no service to its dark, muddy shades, which were almost indistinguishable behind the glossy glare. None of the works were in fact that well lit, and the museum ought to take a leaf out of the Musee d’Orsay’s book in Paris, where new lighting set against dark blue walls makes the Van Gogh works glow beautifully.

Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

From one, forever active, always creative but troubled mind, to the youthful introspection of a girl in times of trouble – Anne Frank, whose house, always the site of long spiralling queues, we left until late to avoid the tourist crush. This we did with relative success, waiting only around 5 minutes to enter. Once inside, the excellent fusion of multimedia presentation with the old house still intact made for an effortless narrative, but did rather clog up the small space with tourists, most of whom would stay frozen to the spot until they had heard every word of the various video clips on show. This was particularly prevalent in the small annex itself, where Anne Frank, her family and four friends of the family, we’re hidden away for two years during the Nazi occupation of Holland. There, in tiny rooms and even tinier, almost vertical staircases, the tourist cram was uncomfortable, but served to emphasise how horrifically claustrophobic it must have been for the 8 persecuted Jews hidden away in these rooms without daylight and being unable to make any noise. Being able to walk through these rooms, still dressed in their original decor, Anne’s pictures of hollywood icons and even the British Queen and her sister pasted onto the walls, made for an intense and emotional experience, far more so than in a museum full of facts and figures.

Bookcase hiding the entrance to the Frank annex

So two of Amsterdam’s great minds have been explored and all that remains is a hot bath to sooth my now fizzing feet, plenty of tea and then dinner. Last night’s dinner, at a romantic art nouveau inspired canal-side brasserie, De Belhamel, was not entirely successful. We were rather pleased, at first, to have been seated up on the mezzanine, with a commanding view over the restaurant and the canal beyond. This advantage soon turned sour when, somewhat topped up with wine, I waved my arm enthusiastically, only to then knock my full wine glass off the edge of the balcony, whereupon it bounced off one railing before shattering, ceremoniously, across the entire ground floor of the restaurant, spraying several tables with its contents. After the crash came the complete shocked silence of the whole restaurant, and suddenly all eyes were on our little table up on the mezzanine. Oh the embarrassment. Oh the mortification. Oh the utmost humiliation. Needless to say, I insouciantly helped myself to more wine before taking a measured but fast retreat from the restaurant. Possibly won’t be returning there in a while.

Sunday Supplement: The Sweet Potato Eaters

I have already referred enthusiastically, earlier in the week, to the socially insightful early masterpiece of Van Gogh – his dowdy, brown-shaded gathering of peasants, The Potato Eaters. So different from his later works, where all the melancholy and subdued tones of his earlier Dutch-based paintings seem to have been discarded, to be replaced with vivid multicoloured rainbow spectrums, flowers, landscapes and characterful people, despite the continuing melancholia escalating in his soul. Yet this painting is no less a masterpiece for its lack of colour, bandaged ears and sunflowers. True, this work would not sit so well on a chocolate box or mouse pad, but it is nevertheless a truly stunning painting to behold, and a truly genuine, authentic insight into the simple life of peasants.

Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (1885, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

Many things strike me about the work, and I can’t wait to see the original (hopefully) when I head to Amsterdam this week. I love the strong contrast between light and shade, the concentration of light in the centre of the table, drawing the viewer into this cosy, intimate scene. I like the faces of the peasants – coarse, worn down, but somehow contented with their humble dinner. And I love the surroundings, dark, dingy, but containing small trinkets demonstrative of the familial setting of the painting. All things combined, before even seeing the original, I was inspired to undertake a parody of the work back in 2010. Taking Van Gogh’s composition, I translated the scene into one of my family. In the painting is a self-portrait (far left) along with portraits of my mother, partner, sister and nephew. Instead of potatoes, we enjoy sweet potatoes, perhaps reminiscent of the better, sweeter life that we are lucky enough to have enjoyed compared to the peasants in Van Gogh’s original.

The Sweet Potato Eaters (after Van Gogh) (oil on canvas, 2010 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

In my painting, the room remains basically the same as Van Gogh’s, but I include a number of features pertaining to my family home – the retro 60s lamp which hangs in my parents dining room, the cuckoo clock which hangs in mine. On the wall is one of my paintings (Lighthouse II: Starry Night) the title of which also refers to a Van Gogh work. In the back room, my family piano features, while on the table, Van Gogh’s simple tea cups are replaced with the Arabia mugs which both my mother and I have a huge collection of – featuring illustrations of Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories. On the shelves, onions, garlic and chorizo represent our affinity, as a family, with Spain, while the shiny coffee maker represents my partner’s family living in Italy.

I took the unusual move, because of the size and scale of the project, of photographing my work as it progressed. I therefore have a series of 45 photos which show how I created the work, step by step. Hopefully this will feature (if I’ve got my technology right) as a slideshow below. I think it adds to the effect to speed up the slide show a bit by clicking on the right arrow – that way you really see the progress of the painting in fastfoward mode.

Enjoy the work, enjoy your Sunday and see you in… Amsterdam!!!

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