Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Van Gogh exhibition launches in London

Willem Van Gogh, Josien Van Gogh and Sylvia Cramer

Relatives of Vincent Van Gogh have launched a major exhibition of the artist's work in London.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters opens at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday.

The exhibition features 35 letters written by Van Gogh, as well as paintings and drawings reflecting themes in the correspondence.

This is the first major exhibition of Van Gogh's work to be held in London since 1968.

Highlights of the exhibition include Self-Portrait As An Artist (1888), The Yellow House (1888), Still-Life: With A Plate Of Onions (1889) and Van Gogh's Chair (1888).

Josien Van Gogh, the great-great-granddaughter of Van Gogh's brother Theo, to whom the artist wrote most of his letters, said it was a very important exhibition.

"To combine the letters with the paintings is wonderful," said Ms Van Gogh, who is also chair of the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation.

"The letters tell us everything about Van Gogh. In his letters he is angry, he is happy, he is sad, he reads a lot. He talks about the weather, things he sees, people he meets, and I think you get to know the person very well."

Van Gogh exhibition
Art enthusiast John Trew studies the works by Van Gogh

Willem Van Gogh said growing up knowing the artist as a relative was a "very normal" part of their lives.

"I remember very well that when I visited houses of friends they would have reproductions of the Sunflowers on their walls, I would think 'oh, he is a relative of mine'.

"When you get older you get to appreciate it a lot more that he was so special and extraordinary. Sometimes for me it is breathtaking to look at his paintings, and some of the paintings here I have never seen before."

Curator Ann Dumas said: "Van Gogh is obviously extremely famous as a painter but less well known is that he was a talented writer and a prolific letter writer.

"The letters are extremely revealing. He writes in great detail about individual works of art, he often includes sketches of works of art that he had recently completed to give his correspondent, usually his brother Theo, an idea of his latest work.

Letter written by Van Gogh
A letter the artist sent to Australian artist John Peter Russell in 1888

"We discover a very different Van Gogh from the one of popular myth that he was just a crazy artist who cut off his ear and eventually killed himself. Although both of those facts are true, what comes out of the letters is that he was a very thoughtful, very reflective man, very highly educated and a phenomenal reader.

"His letters are full of fascinating reflections about art and life, as well as much more detailed information about how he was teaching himself to be an artist and about how he thought about and made his works of art."

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