HOCKNEY – VAN GOGH, THE JOY OF NATURE at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

David Hockney painting May Blossom on the Roman Road 2009 © David Hockney  Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima

Sheer joy with Hockney and van Gogh in Amsterdam

The recent opening of “Hockney – Van Gogh” at the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum made international headlines. The big splash was not the art – David Hockney and journalists had to be rescued from an elevator by the Amsterdam fire-brigade.

Hardly surprising, that me – no modern art lover – arrived at the museum rather wary. Wary of its elevators and escalators and wary of what this exhibition might bring. For I vaguely remembered austere paintings of swimming pools.

Forget those swimming pools. This is a glorious, joyous eruption of love for landscapes, changing seasons, nature. Landscapes van Gogh painted in France are displayed opposite ones Hockney created, after temporarily returning to the Yorkshire Wolds.

Most surprising are similarities. Both artists are not afraid of using striking colours and shapes, drawing tiny details, paint large canvasses. Both also experiment with, say, perspective or try to capture energy and movement – of clouds, wheat, rain.

Take time for the video near the exhibition entrance in which Hockney is interviewed. He is handed quotes from van Gogh’s letters. He agrees with many and at least once remarks: “I could have said this!”

As drawings on the second floor in the exhibition space show, both artists observe tiny details and infinite horizons. They capture a single flower, a nettle, a leave of grass. Then they create fields, landscapes. As Hockney points out: “Just looking. And that’s an important thing I share with Vincent van Gogh: we both really, really enjoy looking at the world.” (Catalogue, p. 61 & p. 149)

Though van Gogh worked in 19th century France, there are works in this exhibition which make one think: his easel could have been standing next Hockney’s in 21st century Yorkshire. Compare for instance van Gogh’s “Undergrowth”, or “Trees” from 1887 with Hockney’s charcoal drawing “Still There” (2008), or “Woldgate” (2012).

But never forget that Hockney is a very modern artist. This exhibition contains works he created using software and his iPad. Though Hockney points out: “Well, they changed the … app. You can now imitate watercolour and oil paint, make paintings like photographs, but that’s not what I want. … I suppose they thought they were improving things, but for me it’s gone now. …” (Catalogue, p. 161) Yes: not every upgrade is an improvement!

Some works are huge. They consist of series of panels creating one painting. Take the series on the ground floor. Here is also Hockney’s “Four seasons, Woldgate Woods” (2010). These four installations consisting of nine screens each, cover four walls. The same stretch of road is displayed from slightly different perspectives, in different seasons.

Van Gogh wrote “I myself almost don’t know which season I like best; I believe all of them, equally well”. I totally agree with Vincent. Though what elated me most: watching David Hockney’s Woldgate Woods, winter 2010 – over and over again.

So don’t miss “Hockney – van Gogh” at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. A truly unique exhibition on joyous nature, welcoming visitors till 26th of May 2019.          Kate    6th March 2019


The catalogue Hockney – van Gogh, The Joy of Nature, ed. H. den Hartog Jager, 176 pp., museum edition ISBN 978-94-9370-00-4 is available in English and Dutch at the museum’s and other book shops.