At a time of decline in religious faith and amid an industrial revolution that changed landscapes and cities forever, artists in the Low Countries began to look inwards, turning art into a new kind of religion.
The most famous artist to come out of the Netherlands and Belgium in the 19th Century, Vincent van Gogh’s biography is well-known: the tortured man who cut off his ear in despair; the troubled soul who found ecstasy in the beauty of the French landscape.
After unsucessfully attempting a career in the church, Van Gogh discovered his true calling in painting: “I’ve found my work” he wrote in an early letter, “something which I live for heart and soul.”
Andrew Graham-Dixon explains how the painter transformed everyday images of nature into visions of divine beauty, reaching a climax in his most famous subject: sunflowers.
He painted the flowers in a fit of enthusiasm, the thick daubes of paint resembling, Graham-Dixon says, “the hot, peppery, garlic-infused mayonnaise” called aioli.
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