18 June 2021

Van Gogh-ing, going, gone: Canberra bids farewell to record-breaking NGA exhibition

| Dominic Giannini
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The National Gallery of Australia

More than 200,000 people have attended Botticelli to Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: Region Media.

More than 200,000 people made their way through the Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London during the exhibition’s 102 days at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

The exhibition, which ran from 5 March and closed on 14 June, marked the first time in the National Gallery, London’s 200-year history that it has toured the artworks internationally.

The travelling works proved to be a hit in Canberra. Despite the pandemic and visitor limits, it was the NGA’s most attended event in the last decade.

The previous record of more than 476,000 also featured Van Gogh, the 2010 exhibition Masterpieces from Paris.

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The masterpieces at Botticelli to Van Gogh spanned 450 years of European art. The biggest drawcard being Van Gogh’s late-1880s masterpiece, Sunflowers.

National Gallery Director Nick Mitzevich confirmed Van Gogh’s status as a Canberra crowd-pleaser, saying he received a lot of positive feedback about Sunflowers.

“Van Gogh’s Sunflowers [is an] extraordinary work, considered to be one of the world’s greatest masterpieces,” he said.

“Many of our visitors asked if we backlit Sunflowers. We didn’t, such was its luminescence, but that was the mastery and magic of the painting. It was like a beacon pulling you in.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

The exhibition’s centrepiece, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Photo: Supplied.

“Throughout the exhibition, we had some of the most recognisable works of art in the world [including from] Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner. Works that people had seen in books or on TV, they could see up close and in the flesh.”

The 61-painting exhibition also included artworks from revered European artists Botticelli, Titian, El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Constable, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Gauguin and, of course, Van Gogh.

Student artworks

Two ACT student works in the NGA’s Van Gogh Sunflowers competition. Photo: NGA.

Kids could also create their own Van Gogh-inspired masterpiece, with the NGA holding a competition for school-age artists from across Australia to reinterpret Sunflowers.

There were more than 1000 entries from across the country and six works – including two from children in the ACT – were chosen as finalists. The competition was taken out by 10-year-old Pei Fu from NSW.

The full list of finalists and their works, as well as Pei Fu’s winning entry, can be found here.

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