Matthew Wong at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Unknown Pleasures, 2019. Oil on canvas. 65 × 65″ (165.1 × 165.1 cm). Gift of Monita and Raymond Wong in memory of their son Matthew Wong.

 Matthew Wong | Vincent van Gogh: Painting as a Last Resort

Around 130 years after Van Gogh comes Chinese-Canadian artist Matthew Wong (1984-2019). When painting came to be his “last resort” in his life, little did he know he would be recognized one day as “the modern Van Gogh” and have his works shown at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Born in Toronto, Wong relocated to Hong Kong when he was seven but for medical reasons moved back to Canada at age 15. He later earned a bachelor degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan and then finished a master’s degree in Photography at the University of Hong Kong. Later realizing that photography did not appeal to him he started to make art instead at the age of twenty-seven, the same age Van Gogh also began as an artist.

His paintings not only drew inspiration from Van Gogh’s iconic works but his personal story also bears a strong resemblance to the Dutch artist. Just on the tangent of success and worldwide fame, Wong ended his life at the age of 35 after suffering from depression, Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD since childhood. In his last few years he managed to produce a large body of work from his studio in Edmonton, Canada until his death in 2019.

Some of the paintings present in the exhibition such as Coming of Age Landscape, 2018 include dynamic and expressive scenes with bold brush strokes. The works include captivating juxtapositions of light and dark but, similar to Van Gogh, an underlying tinge of melancholy is evidently riddled within. The exhibition also beautifully showcases Wong’s initial exploration of Chinese art and gradual transition to Western art, uniquely bridging the cultural gap. From there he not only dives into producing work similar to that of Van Gogh but also of other artists such as Kusama, Klimt, Munch, Gauguin and many others. In the sixty works present in the exhibition you cannot help but remark on Wong’s masterful synthesis of several art styles.

While the exhibition shows “the personal connection with Van Gogh”, Emilie Gordenker, Director of Van Gogh Museum, emphasizes that “we also want to look a little broader” than that. “Wong looked at a huge number of art historical sources, not only Van Gogh. We do not want to just do “a ‘compare and contrast.’” Gordenker implores visitors to go further “than just the connection between these two artists” and to realize that “there’s a lot more to Matthew Wong.”

In the short amount of time Wong managed to produce an astounding body of work that not only celebrates him as the “modern Van Gogh” but a skillful artist who could synthesize several art styles. Though dynamic and aesthetic to observe, the struggles of melancholia in his art are profoundly present, much like in the works of Van Gogh. Wong mentioned that he saw himself in the Dutch artist. Like him, he felt and understood “the impossibility of belonging in this world” (Wong, 2018) even 130 years after.  Anja Herrmann   1st March 2024

This is the first time Matthew Wong’s work is being exhibited in Europe. The exhibition continues at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam until 1st September