Side-by-side self-portraits of Van Gogh and Munch. Courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum and Munch Museum.

Munch : Van Gogh Exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam hosted a show September 25, 2015 — January 17, 2016 revealing the similarities and differences between Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh. The inspiration for the show was derived largely from the confusion many visitors have between the two artists, frequently asking to see The Scream upon entering the Van Gogh museum. While Van Gogh and Munch frequently portrayed similar subject matters and were influenced by similar movements, the two artists used these influences to develop their own unique styles that were distinct from one another, perhaps most dramatically in the way they applied their paint.

Both artists has the “modern” effect of overpowering the forms with brush strokes and emphasizes the materiality of the surface, but in very different ways. Munch’s paintings are generally much flatter on the surface than Van Gogh’s, but maintain the same gestural brushstrokes of the impressionist era like those used by Monet and Renoir. Munch applied much thinner layers and diluted his paint a lot, to the point that it sometimes even dripped down the canvas. In many of Munch’s works he uses a palette knife to scratch off and rework the paint on the canvas, which gives an expressive feel in some works, adding a dimension not just the materiality itself but also the expression of the subject matters. Van Gogh’s brushwork comes off the canvas to a far greater extent, making his paintings more three-dimensional and having an intense feeling of movement.

In one point of the exhibition, a rotunda is assembled, displaying the writings of the artists separated into the categories of spirituality, cycle of life, suffering, anxiety, and consolation. The writings serve to emphasize the psychology and emotions that play a complex role in the paintings of both artists. The show does a particularly good job highlighting the influences on the two artists and how they each incorporated other styles to create ones that were uniquely their own. The show begins by showing realist influence on the two artists (Jean Francois Millet for Van Gogh and Hans Heyerdahl and Christian Krohg on Munch), and displays how the early works of Van Gogh and Munch have similar color palettes and subject matter of every day peasant life, which for many viewers would be a surprising start to their careers. The show then goes on to draw comparisons with Pissarro, Manet, Caillebotte, and Toulouse-Lautrec, as the two artists matured in their styles. The brushwork of Toulouse-Lautrec and Pissarro’s works are evident in those of Van Gogh for instance, but rather than imitating them, he adopts them make something new, painting much more dramatic stokes that would become associated with him as his signature style of painting.

The iconic Munch’s “The Sceam” (1893) next to a similar scene by Van Gogh.

As a part of the museum dedicated to Van Gogh, the exhibition is very effective in showing the unique quality of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the ways in which he was able to draw influence but also distinguish himself from his predecessors and contemporaries, including Munch, with whom he tends to be most closely associated.

Jackie Dreier is a MLitt Modern and Contemporary Art student at Christie’s Education London.

A version of this article was originally published on the C# blog on January 28, 2016.

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