News / 

Met exhibit looks at how Van Gogh drew the line

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

YOU know an artist has reached the zenith of fame when people climb all over themselves to see his drawings. And that's what they'll do starting today, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens the first American exhibition ever of Vincent Van Gogh's works on paper.

Of the more than 1,000 drawings Van Gogh made in his short life, 113, along with a few oils, are now on display at the Met.

Most people don't rush to see drawings, those awkward rehearsals for the main event, those smudged nothings that lack color and interest for all but art aficionados.

It's pretty much a cliché to say that drawings allow you to gaze into the mind and process of the artist. And yet, in Van Gogh's case, that's entirely true.

There are three parts to his artistic genius. The first, obviously, is color. His use of it is so rich and reverent that casual viewers might imagine color is the essence of his art. At the same time, Van Gogh has an intuitive knack for composition - those formal checks and balances that transcend color and form - that by itself would make him a prodigy of art.

Though the Met exhibition gives lavish evidence of both of these gifts, it also reveals something else: line. Even in his most "painterly" paintings, the ones where pigment is laid on so thick it rises a quarter of an inch from the canvas, Van Gogh is apt to define mass by hundreds of glistening jabs of oil.

It is his drawings that give the best evidence of line. Not all of them are great, but at no point in his career - which occupied the entire 1880s - was Van Gogh less than a superb draftsman. Even amid the plodding realism of his earliest works, he can produce a bleak masterpiece like "A Marsh."

Indeed, his draftsmanship, in all its inventiveness, recalls Mozart's irrepressible wealth of musical ideas. Van Gogh's line can describe the posts of a fence or billow into the contours of a cloud; it can stutter across the background to suggest distant trees or form a syncopated field of grass in the foreground.

Most delightful of all are those elegant stipples, those thousands of tiny dots that make up the sky at evening and at noon, as in the artist's late masterpiece, "Harvest in Provence."

While drawings tend to reproduce nicely in photographs, there is nothing in the world like standing over the real thing to feel that you are there, in the same room, with Van Gogh himself.

VINCENT VAN GOGH: THE DRAWINGSThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street; through Dec. 31; (212) 535-7710.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast