At the Carnegie Museum of Art, Van Gogh Proves That There’s Sun Beyond the South

THE DAILY PIC: The Dutch master finds light wherever he goes.



THE DAILY PIC: The worst enemies of art are the clichés we use to digest it. It’s no surprise that the great van Gogh, whose birthday fell this week, made art that fights against them. Today’s Daily Pic is his so-called Still Life, Basket of Apples, painted in 1887 and now on view in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where it’s on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Remember how van Gogh’s sunny yellows were inspired by the light of southern France? Well, that classic cliché–the bromide that insists that artworks reflect the place they were made–gets busted once we realize that this very yellow, very “southern” picture was in fact painted in Paris, before van Gogh ever headed toward the Midi. (And despite the title, I’m pretty sure many of its fruits are quinces, bought for their classic yellowness; they appear under that name in another golden, Parisian picture from the same year.)

Art is always about the entirely artificial choices that artists make, out of the infinite options available to them. The southern sun didn’t “cause” Vincent to go yellow; he loved a sunny palette already and went south to find more of the same, and to more easily justify his taste for ochres. (Artists buy into clichés, too, and sometimes structure their art and lives around them – as I’ve argued that van Gogh did with his madness.)

But maybe the biggest problem with the cliché of place is that there’s no proving it wrong: As philosophers have insisted for ages, the human mind can almost always find similarities between any two phenomena. Give me just about any place, and any painting, and I’ll show you how one depended on the other. (Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr.)

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