Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. Collection of Musée d’Orsay. Image courtesy the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France/Bridgeman Images.
TORONTO.- This fall, the Art Gallery of Ontario invites visitors to accompany some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. Organized in partnership with the renowned Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more breaks new ground by exploring the mystical experiences of 36 artists from 15 countries, including Emily Carr, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Edvard Munch, Georgia O’Keeffe and James McNeill Whistler. This major exhibition, which features close to 90 extraordinary paintings and 20 works on paper, debuted on Oct. 22, 2016 and runs to Jan. 29, 2017, before opening at the Musée d’Orsay in the spring of 2017.
The years between 1880 and 1930 were marked by rampant materialism and rapid urbanization. Disillusioned with traditional religious institutions, many artists across Europe and North America searched for an unmediated spiritual path through mystical experiences. They conveyed their feelings of unity with nature and the cosmos in some of the most famous landscape paintings ever created. Gauguin found inspiration in the faith of peasants in rural Brittany; Monet sought solace from the First World War through hours of contemplation beside his waterlily pond at Giverny; and van Gogh looked for consolation in the starry skies over Arles.
Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888, Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm; F: 96x116.7x8.3cm, National Gallery of Scotland. © National Gallery of Scotland
Mystical Landscapes was conceived and developed by Katharine Lochnan, the AGO’s senior curator of international exhibitions, together with guest curators Roald Nasgaard and Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, in addition to Guy Cogeval and Isabelle Morin Loutrel of the Musée d’Orsay.
Over the five years it has taken to develop the exhibition, the AGO has been assisted by a multi-disciplinary advisory group drawn largely from senior faculty at the University of Toronto. Leading experts in the fields of theology, history, astrophysics, medicine and psychology have looked at nature mysticism and art through different lenses.
Paul Gauguin, Christ in the Garden of Olives (Christ dans le jardin des oliviers), 1889. © Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida.
“These masterpieces convey experiences that cannot be put into words,” says Lochnan. “The feeling of connecting with a deeper reality—a power much greater than ourselves—is a mystical experience. These experiences may reach any of us through the contemplation of nature and the cosmos. We are moved by the beauty of sunrise and sunset, the stars in the night sky, the reflections of the moon on lakes, the power of the ocean waves and the vision of snow-capped mountains. These paintings convey the artists’ mystical experiences of something greater than themselves. It is primarily through the contemplation of nature that they have seen with greater clarity.”
Mystical Landscapes takes visitors on a journey through Europe, Scandinavia and North America, beginning on a path through the woods and ending with a view of outer space from a mountain top.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Olive Trees, Saint Rémy, June-July 1889. Oil on canvas, 28 5/8 x 36" (72.6 x 91.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (581.1998) © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Highlights of the exhibition include:
• Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles from 1888, which prompted him to write about feeling “a tremendous need of —shall I say the word—religion...so I go outside at night to paint the stars”;
• Paul Gauguin’s vivid Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) from 1888, painted during his sojourn in rural Brittany;
• Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (Nymphéas) from 1907, which he painted after hours of Zen-like meditation beside his Japanese water garden;
• Edvard Munch’s The Sun, created to inspire students in the wake of his well-publicized nervous breakdown between 1910-1913
• Georgia O’Keeffe’s Series I - from the Plains from 1919, showing the terrifying power of an approaching thunderstorm in Texas;
• A series of mystical lithographs by the recently rediscovered French artist Charles-Marie Dulac, which illustrates St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation.
Eugene Jansson, Dawn over Riddarfjarden, 1899. Oil on canvas, 150 x 201 cm, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde.
“We have been given extraordinary support for this project from institutions around the world,” says Lochnan. “Many of the loans are ‘magnets’ in their home museums and are very seldom lent. This unprecedented level of generosity reflects the very genuine excitement and commitment to the ideas explored in this exhibition which have never been fully addressed through art historical research.”
Lenders include the Musée d’Orsay; Tate Britain; National Gallery of Canada; National Gallery of Scotland; National Museum, Stockholm; National Gallery, Oslo; National Gallery, Prague; Leopold Museum, Vienna; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; and many other institutions worldwide.
After stepping through its doors, visitors to the exhibition will feel an immediate sense of escape from the world outside. While designing the in-gallery experience, AGO Senior Interpretive Planner David Wistow has carefully considered ways to help audiences draw their own emotional connections to the art works. “We welcome people to contemplate the role of spirituality in their own lives, and their connection to a deeper reality,” says Wistow. “The artists’ mystical journeys prompt us to ask our own questions of, ‘Who are we, and why are we here?’"
Claude Monet, Water Lilies (Nymphéas), 1907. 80.98 x 92.07. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Gift of Mrs. Harry C. Hanszen. Courtesy Bridgeman Images.
Ferdinand Hodler, Der Niesen bei Regen von Heustrich aus, 1910. Oil on canvas, 80 x 91 cm. Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau © Aargauer Kunsthaus.
Edvard Munch, The Sun, 1910-13, Oil on canvas, 162 x 205 cm, Munch-Museet. © Munch-Museet
Emily Carr, Sky (Ciel), 1935-1936. Oil on wove paper, 58.7 x 90.7 cm. Purchased 1937. National Gallery of Canada (no. 4286). © National Gallery of Canada