Review: Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain

The last time that Tate opened a Vincent Van Gogh show, it caused a sensation: the year was 1947 and record numbers of people visited. Now, the gallery’s offering London another chance to enter his kaleidoscopic world: Neil Simpson visits Tate Britain’s new exhibition,Van Gogh and Britain.

The Westminster gallery has teamed up with Ernst & Young on this blockbuster show, which celebrates the cultural interchange that began when Van Gogh arrived in Britain in 1837 – and continues 182 years later. Open until 11 August 2019, Van Gogh and Britain exhibits over 45 works by the legendary Post-Impressionist, as well as art by those who have both influenced and followed him.

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Tate Britain’s spacious galleries are a suitably grand setting, allowing this big collection enough room to breathe. It’s organised in a methodical, manageable way that won’t overwhelm you: it begins with his arrival in London aged twenty, then sends you on a chronological journey through his masterpieces, death, posthumous glory and to his afterlife, made possible through the art of those he has inspired since.

One of Britain’s most celebrated painters had an impact on Van Gogh’s developing style: John Constable was loved for his ability to beautifully capture the landscape of his home county Suffolk. Here, Van Gogh’s own serene landscapes, such as Starry Night over the Rhône (below), reveal Constable’s influence.

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Print-making was a booming business while Van Gogh was in London and he became a collector. He bought a print of prisoners exercising inside London’s Newgate Prison and, during the final year of his life, Van Gogh used this image to create his only painted scene of London. The liveliness of the brush strokes and colours clash with the sad setting – it’s an insight into Van Gogh’s complicated, often sad mind.

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Next, Van Gogh and Britain explores his impact on British artists, with a display of paintings by Matthew Smith, Spencer Gore and Harold Gilman – also known as the Camden Town Group. Van Gogh’s 1889 oil painting of pine trees and cedar bushes in Saint-Rémy dominates this gallery: flown from LA, it’s a dramatic artwork of bloody reds and swirling greens in an equally attention-grabbing carved frame. 

The most famous paintings are in the final rooms, which helps you to understand how and why Van Gogh became a giant in the decades following his death. His sunflowers stand proudly in a bright room that is filled with flowery work by other painters who studied him.

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It is easy to think of Vincent Van Gogh as a tragic talent, who died without knowing the recognition that he would achieve. What Van Gogh and Britain does however, is encourage us to remember the human side to him, by presenting a fuller artistic story – told from a uniquely British perspective.

Van Gogh and Britain is open until 11 August 2019
Tate Britain, Millbank, SW1P 4RG
020 7887 8888 |

Take a sneak peek at London’s Top Artefacts and Art Works

Image credts:
Sunflowers at Tate Britain © Tate Photography (Joe Humphrys)
Starry Night over the Rhône © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Prisoners Exercising at Tate Britain © Tate Photography (Joe Humphrys)
Various works by Van Gogh at Tate Britain © Tate Photography (Joe Humphrys)


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