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A small but potent show just went on display at the Met. Four striking canvases by Van Gogh of flowers are on display in the Lehman Wing, Irises and Roses from 1890, and they were painted 125 years ago to the day. Described in a letter to his brother as an ensemble effort, they have not been exhibited together since their creation.

The Met reassembled these works for the first time, two were in their own collection and the others came courtesy of the van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and the National Gallery in Washington DC.

Any van Gogh show will be easy on the eyes, however this one is a curious cross of museum forensics in explaining how the red paint (geranium lake) faded under ultra violet light from the canvases. Once past a rare discussion on their part of the hard science the Met inevitably relapses into their would be poetic assessment of the artist’s work:

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) brought his work in Provence to a close with exuberant bouquets of spring flowers—two of irises and two of roses, in contrasting formats and color schemes—in which he sought to impart a "calm, unremitting ardor" to his "last touch of the brush." Painted on the eve of his departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy and conceived as a series or ensemble on a par with the Sunflower decoration painted earlier in Arles, the group includes the Metropolitan Museum's Irises and Roses and their counterparts: the upright Irises from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the horizontal Roses from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This exhibition will reunite the four paintings for the first time since the artist's death and is timed to coincide with the blooming of the flowers that captured his attention. It will open 125 years to the week that Van Gogh announced to his brother Theo, on May 11 and 13, 1890, that he was working on these "large bouquets," and will provide a singular opportunity to reconsider Van Gogh's artistic aims and the impact of dispersal and color fading on his intended results.

Science, at the Met, and about van Gogh, too, will wonders never cease. This begs for a follow up as a few canvases came out of storage, to replace the florals that got sent over to the Lehman Wing. More to come.


vangogh1van Gogh, Irises, 1890, van Gogh Museum, Netherlands

vangogh2van Gogh, Irises, Metropolitan Museum of Art

vangogh3van Gogh, Roses, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

vangogh4van Gogh, Roses, 1890, Metropolitan Museum of Art

About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...