Van Gogh, The Frick and Brasserie Cognac East

Hello, Summer, my old friend. Here it is, Memorial Day Weekend, time to pull together a few loose ends and start packing. As you may recall, I signed off last week from the rooftop at the Met, on my way to see Van Gogh: Irises and Roses. Let me tell you about it.

At the Met...

This small but charming exhibit is tucked away in the Lehman wing, a delightful part of the museum flooded with natural light. The four paintings date from May of 1890, when Van Gogh was getting ready to leave the hospital at St Remy in Provence and head north. What's remarkable is that this the first time in 125 years that they've been exhibited together.

Thanks to Van Gogh's lifelong habit of documenting his work in letters to his younger brother, Theo, an art dealer in Paris, we know a great deal about the mindset of the artist, about his ideas pertaining to form and color. It was this strong fraternal bond between the two men that sustained Vincent throughout his life, both intellectually, emotionally and financially. To read his letters to Theo, asking him to send paints and canvases, is heart-wrenching. The man whose work would command astronomical sums after his death, could not afford the tools of his trade. Theo, to his great credit, did all he could to help his brother, and, tragically, the two of them would both die young, within months of one another.

The last Letter to Theo

In his last letter to Theo (written May 11 or 12, 1890) before leaving St Remy, Vincent mentions the irises and roses. “I’m working on a canvas of roses on a bright green background and two other canvases of large bunches of violet irises, one against a pink background in which the combination of greens, pinks and violets creates an harmonious and gentle effect.” But the effect he described would not last, as I will explain in a moment.

"By contrast, the other violet flowers (ranging to carmine and pure Prussian blue) stand out against a striking lemon yellow background with more yellow tones in the vase and the surface on which it stands, creating an effect of fantastic, ill-assorted complementary colors, the contrast  of which is mutually enhancing."

Van Gogh had said that paintings fade like flowers. How prescient that was! For at the death of Van Gogh's mother in 1907, it was noted that the roses in a painting he had given her had lost their color. So, too, the background and vase in the canvas with irises (see above). While still beautiful, it would not have pleased the exacting Van Gogh.

The fault was not in Van Gogh's eye or his understanding, but in the inferior quality of the light-sensitive 'red lake' pigment he was using. Consequently, the violet in the canvases faded to blue and the pink to white. Van Gogh once declared Delacroix 'the greatest colorist of them all,’ but, nowadays, many would say the same of him. Faded or not.

 At The Frick: A Wrap-up

A few weeks ago, I had mentioned Eighteenth century paintings at The Frick by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694-1752) telling the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes. Paintings that were the basis for the extraordinary tapestries that have been on display these past few months. As the rights and distribution department at The Frick has generously shared a number of their photographs, I wanted to  do the same. So, here they are, in all their glory.

Need a Break?

 Brasserie Cognac East

Brasserie Cognac East

The charming paintings by Coypel belong to the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris, a great favorite of mine, especially when one is lucky enough to snag a table for lunch on the terrace overlooking the garden. But should you be at The Frick, best to walk down the block to the Brasserie Cognac East at 70th Street and Lexington Avenue.

So, gals and guys, it's time for me to say adieu. Summer is nigh, and BonitaBabs is off on a holiday, heading for Paris. Perhaps lunching at the Musée Jacquemart-André. New York slows down in the summer, with the denizens of the city heading for the beaches or the mountains, so I won't be posting until after Labor Day. But I'll be thinking of you... in all the old familiar places.

Until then, I'm wishing you good times and friends with whom to share them. And before you go, will you take a second to share this post, be it on Facebook or Twitter or Google. Merci beaucoup mes amis. On se voit en septembre.