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Vincent Van Gogh, "Irises"
Vincent Van Gogh, Irises, 1890. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958.
Van Gogh: Irises and Roses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Amanda Boyle

May 16, 2015
Towards the end of his stay at an asylum at Saint-Rémy, in May 1889, Vincent Van Gogh collected four bunches of flowers to paint, two each of irises and roses. Over the course of two weeks he painted four works, one for each of the bouquets. They were "conceived as a series or an ensemble." Two months later he died. These works were dispersed after Van Gogh's death, and for the first time since then they are together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met owns two of the paintings, while the upright Irises comes from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the horizontal Roses come from the National Gallery of Art in DC.

The flowers in the upright Irises spill out of the vase against a goldenrod background. This painting shows the sharpest edges: the slim triangular leaves stick up like spikes, and the petals are like crooked beckoning fingers. In the horizontal Irises, the petals curl in a softer seduction, and the leaves bow.

The horizontal Roses has the gentlest personality. The flowing turquoise background makes the still life seem like it's under the sea. Whereas the flowers in the upright Roses climb one over the other upwards towards the heavens.

Each iris in their two paintings has its own personality, even within the groupings. The roses--while each rose is still unique--seem more part of a group.

Van Gogh used light-sensitive red lake pigments in these paintings, which has caused some of the colors to fade, specifically in the Irises the violet has faded to blue, and in the Roses the pink has faded to white. However, the paintings are still powerful, emotional works.

I visited the exhibition on an early Wednesday afternoon. It was fairly crowded, but I still was able to view each painting for as long as I desired, and could move easily through the crowd to read the exhibition information. On the weekends I imagine the exhibition will be packed, as Van Gogh is such a popular artist. But if you can only manage to get to the Met during a high traffic time, I would still suggest a visit. Because while the Met owns two of the paintings and each painting is beautiful on its own, together they complement and bring out each other's personalities, and it likely will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all four together.

The Van Gogh: Irises and Roses exhibition opened May 12, and runs until August 16.