Tuesday 18 June 2019

What Lies Beneath: Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh

Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh, Oil on canvas; Courtesy of Solomon R Guggenheim, New York

Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh
Landscape with Snow by Vincent van Gogh

Niall MacMonagle

How did it happen? Were The Donald and Lady Melania cuddled up on the couch and leafing through an art book before a blazing fire on a winter's evening? We'll never know. But we do know that the first couple asked if they could borrow, from New York's Guggenheim, this Vincent van Gogh painting for their private quarters in the White House. White House, white snow? It's kinda cute. Or did they think the dog would cheer up 11-year-old Barron? And shouldn't the Trumps' better taste be encouraged?

But Nancy Spector, Guggenheim's chief curator, was having none of it. She refused the White House request but knowing that President Trump liked gold, she suggested another art work: America, by Maurizio Cattelan, an 18-carat gold toilet, estimated value $1m, a work that pokes fun at America's relationship with the mighty dollar.

She didn't hear back.

But then the Trumps are flush.

Surely the first family would have enjoyed that up-close-and-personal experience of living with a Van Gogh original?

In 1888, 35-year-old Van Gogh headed south to sunny Arles but, unusually, there was snow in Provence that winter and Landscape with Snow was one of the first paintings he made there.

The eye follows the road that cuts through the field towards the horizon. Energetic brushstrokes capture the flat landscape of La Crau plains, the trees, the red-roofed building, the distant Montmajour, the earth and grassy patches pushing through the melting snow.

It's as vivid and fresh today as it was for Van Gogh, when he saw it, 130 years ago. One man and his dog - just imagine the painting without them - add movement and narrative.

The man in the painting is not the most powerful man in the world. He probably worked the land, made a modest living, fed his dog, watched spring follow winter.

Were POTUS to have this on his wall it could only do him good. Trump likes to watch three or four TV screens simultaneously.

This Van Gogh offers something quiet, beautiful, human. And if Donald Trump were quieter, more beautiful inside, more humane, wouldn't that be a good thing?

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