Go “Into the Undergrowth” with Vincent van Gogh & His Contemporaries

Artwork: Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Undergrowth with Two Figures, June 1890, oil on canvas, 19 ½ x 39 ¼ in. (49.5 x 99.7 cm), Cincinnati Art Museum; Bequest of Mary E. Johnston, 1967.1430

“Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it,” Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) wrote, his words revealing the challenging depths of his work, a work that drove him and nourished him through sickness and health.

Also: Take a Walk Through the Valley of Death with Vincent van Gogh in His Final Months

As a Dutch painter working in during a period of Post-Impressionism, van Gogh used the brushstroke to convey the profoundly spiritual experience in the work of art, mediating the space between the artist, his subject, and the audience with his whole heart. Best known for his evocative self-portraits and brilliant starry skies, his country landscapes and glorious still lifes, van Gogh had a gift for capturing the powerful vibrations and intangible frequencies emanating from all life on earth.

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Tree Trunks in the Grass, late April 1890, oil on canvas, 28 9/16 x 36 in. (72.5 x 91.5 cm), Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, KM 100.189

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Tree Trunks in the Grass, late April 1890, oil on canvas, 28 9/16 x 36 in. (72.5 x 91.5 cm), Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, KM 100.189

Yet it was only in his death that his genius was recognized. He sold but one painting during his life, a life cut short by a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 37. Perhaps best known for his illness that led him to cut off a section of his ear and give it to a girl, van Gogh was a man of imperceptible depths that bridged the spaces between God, Nature, and Man.

In a letter to his brother Theo from 1880, van Gogh observed, “I cannot help thinking that the best way of knowing God is to love many things. Love this friend, this person, this thing, whatever you like, and you will be on the right road to understanding Him better, that is what I keep telling myself. But you must love with a sublime, genuine, profound sympathy, with devotion, with intelligence, and you must try all the time to understand Him more, better and yet more. That will lead to God, that will lead to an unshakeable faith.”

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), In the Woods, circa 1880, oil on canvas, 21 15/16 x 18 ¼ in. (55.8 x 46.3 cm), The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Matsukata Collection, P.1959-183

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), In the Woods, circa 1880, oil on canvas, 21 15/16 x 18 ¼ in. (55.8 x 46.3 cm), The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Matsukata Collection, P.1959-183

Van Gogh brought this faith to his work in its many forms, taking himself out into the world to discover a path to God. A new exhibition, Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum, now through January 8, 2017, explores his relationship to the landscape, uniting him with his contemporaries in a magnificent group show that recalls the salons of the nineteenth century.

Featuring more than 20 paintings by van Gogh, Théodore Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Camille Pissarro, and James McNeill Whistler, Into the Undergrowth is the perfect exhibition for contemplation of the season. As the verdant foliage of spring and summer fall away, we are left only with the memories of the joys that nature brings. The paintings featured here reveal the way in which art captures the changing world, making the ephemeral eternal and giving us a quiet space to partake in what has disappeared.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1903), Interior of a Forest, circa 1885, oil on canvas, 18 ¼ x 22 1/16 in. (46.4 x 56.1 cm), Collection of Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Given in loving memory of Saidye Rosner Bronfman by her family, 1996, 93/321

Paul Cézanne (1839–1903), Interior of a Forest, circa 1885, oil on canvas, 18 ¼ x 22 1/16 in. (46.4 x 56.1 cm), Collection of Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Given in loving memory of Saidye Rosner Bronfman by her family, 1996, 93/321

Taken as a whole, the exhibition showcases the brilliance of the era while drawing attention to the profound mysteries of art, of the way in which the individual mind is driven to translate the poetry of life into art, so that long after they have passed from this world, their spirit lives on in their work.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.