Earth yellows with saturated pinks, sinuous curving branches in crimson through to sienna. Ochre and mandarin stretch toward a distant horizon and the colours morph into a landscape of olive groves surrounding a sun drenched wheat field.
My quiet reverie is abruptly disrupted as an abnormally large group of people move to obstruct the view. But we are all excited and the throng of people disperse as quickly as they form..they seem part of an external picture that ever changes while the wheat field is forever fixed in time.
Somehow this sense of duality surrounds Van Gogh’s oeuvre. From the strongly modulated tonality of the earth tone Dutch period contrasting with the high key, chroma saturated, modernist vision of his late work; the crowded social realism of the The Potato Eaters (1885) compared with the late, nature inspired landscapes devoid of people such as Wheatfield with Crows (1890); his historical position that bridges the romantic tradition with modernist painting. And his very physicality presents a duality; the colour complimentary of his orange hair with his blue eyes.
If you manage to see the art amidst the heavy crowd invariably raises the question of the artist’s enduring popularity: how is it that he commands such following? This isn’t merely fame that is beyond the envy of today’s self obsessed society. It is of an altogether different variety reserved for the historically few. From the street to the cultural elite he is known and loved. There’s that duality again.