Mystical Landscapes, a special exhibit currently at the Art Gallery of Ontario, opens with a trumpet fanfare. Three paintings by Paul Gauguin, all circa 1890 before he fled for the debauchery of the South Pacific, are displayed like a medieval tryptic. Gauguin painted them to be hung together but this is the first time the artist’s wish has been achieved. They include Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, The Yellow Christ and Christ in the Garden of Olives, usually hanging in Edinburgh, Buffalo and West Palm Beach respectively.
The rest of the exhibit of 90 paintings and 20 drawings is equally compelling and includes two by Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees is done in his roiling style that resonates from the soil, through the trees and the mountains to a single cloud in the sky. Starry Night over the Rhone demonstrates van Gogh’s search for the spiritual. When he sought religion, he said, “I go outside at night to paint the stars.” He’d wear lighted candles on his hat to help find his way.
Among my favourites was The Sun by Edvard Munch, the joyous side of the artist best known for The Scream. Another Scandinavian artist, Eugene Jansson, is represented by three works that, like van Gogh, see the world by gaslight and the setting sun. And there are works by Georgia O’Keeffe like I have never seen before.
While there are some excellent Canadian paintings in the show, including Tom Thomson’s iconic The West Wind, there are a few from the First World War that I didn’t think fit the mystical landscape thesis. The rest of the show, however, is the best since the AGO brought the Barnes Exhibit to Toronto in 1994.