Reporting Pat Ciarrocchi
By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch master, is drawing 150,000 visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the latter’s latest exhibit, “Van Gogh Up Close,” until May 6, 2012.
Among the thousands were little girls on a field trip who will never see flowers in the same way again.
“I like the colors that he used in his paintings,” says Amelia Sharkey, an elementary school student from Bryn Mawr. “I think they’re cool and bright and stuff.”
Her friend, Anya McDonnell, is fascinated too. “He painted a lot of things from nature. It’s just very beautiful.”
On this day, the Philadelphia Museum of Art became a classroom for young students. The subject? Vincent van Gogh, an artist who lived a turbulent life, dealing with physical and mental illness, but broke convention, drew from nature and painted with intensity.
Walking among the children was Joseph Rishel, Senior Curator of European Painting Before 1900.
Rishel is more like a delighted professor when immersed in a favorite subject. He explains how, in the last three and half years of his life, van Gogh used his drive to do something no other artist was doing: Instead of only painting wide-scene landscapes, he zoomed in.
“This compression, up close,” says Rishel. “This is all the language of the camera man.”
Long before cameras were a thought in anyone’s mind, of course.
“Never discount the ego involvement of the artist,” says Rishel. “You’re out there is a studio all alone, pouring out your guts. It’s you and you alone. Into that blank sheet–the bravest thing in the world they say–the first mark you put, because it’s your destiny.”
Rishel says he finds an urgency in these works.
“He paints 73 pictures in 70 days before he dies. They are high energy…he’s driving, driving, driving.”
The children notice too. “His moods went with them,” says Amelia Sharkey. “He painted darker when he was sad and brighter when he was happy.”
Much of it is emotional, for both the visitor and the expert.
“I’m just blown away,” says Rishel, speaking of one of van Gogh’s final works, painted just two months before he died. The painting is for his newborn nephew, his namesake.
“I think it just puts you on cloud nine, I really do,” says Rishel.
“Van Gogh Up Close” is open through May 6, 2012 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.