EU shipping is temporarily suspended

Splash Among the Sunflowers: Hockney and Van Gogh's Love of Nature

Posted on 27 Apr 2019

'Hockney - Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature', the blockbuster exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, explores Van Gogh and Hockney’s common love of landscape.

If you’re looking for a show for springtime, it doesn’t get much more verdant than Hockney-Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.The blockbuster exhibition presents 60 of his works, as well as sketchbooks and loose sheets, alongside canvases by Van Gogh. Hockney’s first major show in The Netherlands, the exhibition sets out to explore the many inspirations Hockney has found in Van Gogh’s painting and, in particular, the two artists’ responses to the natural world.

Field with Irises near Arles Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Arles, May 1888 oil on canvas, 54 cm x 65 cm Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

It’s an exhibition enveloping in its chromatic vitality and expansive impressions of space. Bold colourists of their time, both Van Gogh and Hockney shape their landscapes through contrasting shades, in particular the vivid juxtaposition of yellow and blue. It’s there in the phosphorescent swirls of The Starry Night, in the petals and grains of Field with Irises Near Arles, and it’s there – with extra lurid jolt – in Hockney’s Kilham to Langtoft II, Woldgate Vista, andMore Felled Trees on Woldgate.

David Hockney, 'More Felled Trees on Woldgate', 2008, Oil on 2 canvases (60 x 48" each), 60 x 96'' overall, © David Hockney, Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Both artists relish nature’s intricate palette — the sheer breadth and complexity of colour brought forth by a wheat field or a forest floor. So, too, do they enjoy the dappling effects of light through foliage and shadowy undergrowth beneath the trees.

In some instances, Hockney draws directly on Van Gogh’s example. The post-impressionist’s legacy ripples through the breezy Wheatfield off Woldgate and clearly contours the slopes of Woldgate Vista, 27 July 2005. Hockney’s Midsummer, East Yorkshire — a series of 36 watercolors on paper — is a multiple homage to van Gogh’s Provence landscapes, with its sequence of rolled haystacks beneath wide and airy skies.

David Hockney, 'Woldgate Vista, 27 July 2005', Oil on canvas, 24 x 36'', © David Hockney, Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt. The Harvest Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), Arles, June 1888 oil on canvas, 73.4 cm x 91.8 cm Credits (obliged to state): Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

In other works, the mirroring is in spatial strategies as the two artists probe a new sense of motion and depth. In Hockney’s “tunnel paintings” —a series of paintings of a single path through the woods — and works such as The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire and May Blossom on the Roman Road, we see the artist adopt the same receding pathway that delineates several Van Gogh paintings, among them Pollard Willow and Country Road in Provence by Night.

David Hockney, 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)', Oil on 32 canvases (36 x 48" each), 144 x 384" overall, © David Hockney, Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle

Like many of his landscapes, Hockney painted “The Tunnel” at different times throughout the year, reveling in the seasonal flux of light and colour. It was a natural spectacle Hockney rediscovered when he returned to his native Yorkshire from Los Angeles in 2003. The break away from saturated West Coast sunshine and the concrete stasis of LA brought with it a joyful remembrance of natural cycles, in particular the voluptuous splendours of spring. “It looks like champagne has been poured over the bushes,” says the artist, “It looks marvelous”.

“In southern California if you went out to paint, the only thing that would be fluctuating are the shadows as they moved,” Hockney told Martin Gayford in 2006. “Here [in East Yorkshire] the shadows might not be there much of the time, but other things are constantly altering.” The artist had intended to stay in Yorkshire for a few months, but has now remained – on and off – for 15 years.

David Hockney painting "May Blossom on the Roman Road", 2009, © David Hockney, Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima

Hockney’s return to nature revitalized a genre, defying those who dismissed landscape painting as bygone and boring. “I knew people in London then who were saying, “you can’t paint landscape now, it’s boring, it’s outdated”, but I thought: how can you be bored with landscape? Landscape is infinite, isn’t? That’s what I started to do in Yorkshire, get the excitement for the landscape back. I went painting outdoors, just to find a new kind of language.” That language included both the iPad drawings and the multi-panel paintings, as well as a consistent emphasis on grand scale.

For the artist, who continues to paint every day, immersion in landscape and Van Gogh’s work has become an exercise in appreciation and pleasure, as much as a quintessence of the artist’s task “I’ve always found the world quite beautiful, looking at it. Just looking….There are always things that will try to pull you down, but we should be joyful in looking at the world.And that’s an important thing I share with Vincent van Gogh: we both really, really enjoy looking at the world.”


Hockney – Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature ran through May 26th at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Find an exclusive interview with David Hockney on landscape painting and the influence of Van Gogh on his work in our companion catalogue.