Just over a week ago I was at the Royal Academy in London to see The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters. It is, not surprisingly, proving incredibly popular.
I don't think I've ever been to such a crowded exhibition. It did have the feeling of a rugby scrum at some points, with Royal Academy 'ladies' elbowing their way towards the front of the crowds! I more or less gave up trying to see Van Gogh's letters as they are available to view online and the cases that they were displayed in were completely shrouded by people who were spending ages pouring over them.
I left the show with a slightly heavy heart and didn't have the feeling of elation that I got when I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. After chatting about this with my brother Leo we decided it was because the inclusion of his preparatory sketches and his private letters makes this exhibition incredibly personal.
You feel his struggles and see how hard he strived to be better and better, with very little positive recognition from anyone. The exhibition is also a story of brotherly love, you are left in no doubt of Theo's commitment to what Vincent was doing. The fact that Theo kept all his letters so carefully shows that he recognised the significance of his brother's talent and I'm sure he knew his letters would be of great interest in the future. The pen illustrations in his letters are so intricate, I found it interesting that they were often done after he had completed a painting - on the whole they weren't sketches of his ideas, rather sketches to show Theo what he had completed. In the age of digital cameras and email I wonder if Van Gogh would have been emailing Theo from the Cafe next to The Yellow House with images of his latest work!