Currently on at The Scottish National Gallery, is an exhibition travelling from Amsterdam called Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh To Kandinsky which was at the Van Gogh Museum. It isn’t coming to England at all, so if you are not already in Scotland and want to see it you will have to travel to Edinburgh! We will be running a study visit to it on 1st October which will run from 11.30am till 3pm. Please email email@example.com if you would like to go.
Jim Cowan recently visited the show and reports on it here. Emma Drye also visited the exhibition and her take on it is remarkably different and will be published in a couple of days, so do look at both posts!
In Arnold Bocklin’s ‘Island of the Dead’ 1886 was the first picture in the show. Thinking that it looked smaller than when I saw the painting last, I discovered that it was the fifth version that the artist had painted of this subject.
Subsequent research revealed that this painting was exceedingly popular in its day and according to the writer Nabokov there was a print ‘to be found in every home in Berlin’. Indeed the third version was at one time owned by Adolf Hitler and was hung in the Berghof, his Bavarian mountain retreat. The popularity of this painting accounts for its many versions, which were commissioned by collectors.
Included also in the show was the second version of Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Melancholy’ 1894-96. The original idea started life as a pastel before he painted the first version in 1891. Subsequent woodcut prints of the same subject followed. The first version Munch cut in Paris in 1896 got lost in the post when he sent it back to Norway, so he cut another version. The last woodcut of the series was probably ‘Melancholy 3’ 1902, of which there are three versions.
Munch was a shrewd businessman and knew what would sell, but he also was concerned to keep all his key pictures together and wanted to exhibit them together as a ‘Frieze of Life’, which in part explains why he painted other versions when the originals had been sold. It would be interesting to know what Munch would have thought of the fifth version of the ‘Scream’ being sold recently for £74 million pounds. I think he would have painted another one.
Also in the show was a painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) of Lake Keitele shows the wake left by the Finnish mythical folk hero Vainamoinen as his copper boat passes across the water. There seem to be three versions, the third of which is currently on display at London’s National Gallery. The version in the Van Gogh Gallery exhibition, dated 1905, is moodier in tone and better depicts the spirit of the story. Gallen-Kallela is considered to be Finland’s national painter, and was a friend and compatriot of the composer Sibelius.
Van Gogh painted 6 versions of the Sunflowers, as well as two versions of ‘The Bedroom’. He painted these with no sale in mind but simply for the love of the subject and to welcome Gauguin to the Yellow House in Arles.
Of course many artists like to work in series, and so we have Monet’s Hay Stacks, Poplars and Cathedrals, Cézannes’s Bathers and Card players as well as his many depictions of Mont Sainte- Victoire.
If you have a good idea why not explore its possibilities. Later this has lead to artists being known mostly for a signature style of work with Rothko, among others, painting many variations in the same format. The artist of course who has taken painting replicas to new heights is Damian Hirst with his 1500 (and rising) spot paintings.
Not to be outdone, I decided to paint a second version of a painting of which I had already done an etching. The reason was I had for some time thought that the first version was too small and realised that it would look better painted a larger size. So with a lot of effort and trying not to copy the original too closely a second version now exists ready to take its place in the world – but rest assured I won’t be doing another one.