Vincent van Gogh; Still Life, Basket of Apples, 1887; oil on canvas; 18 3/8 x 21 3/4 in. (46.7 x 55.3 cm); Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Sydney M. Shoenberg Sr. 43:1972

Visiting Van Gogh: Still Life, Basket of Apples

March 14–July 6, 2015
Gallery One
Carnegie Museum of Art

“Certainly color is making progress, precisely by the Impressionists, even when they go astray.”
–Vincent van Gogh, May 1889

In the spring of 1886, Vincent van Gogh visited Paris for an extended stay, leaving the city in early 1888. This trip was the catalyst for most of his famous, dynamically colorful works. During his time in Paris, Van Gogh encountered the bold color and brushwork of the Impressionists and a new wave of artists succeeding them, and they inspired him to paint with a new vibrancy and freshness. Most of his famous, dynamically colorful works came after his Paris visit. Experience this story in four paintings with Visiting Van Gogh, which centers on Still Life, Basket of Apples (1887), lent to Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) by the Saint Louis Art Museum. Van Gogh often called his still life paintings “color studies,” and this still life, made toward the end of his stay in Paris, can be seen an experiment with his palette.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to experience four masterpieces up-close and in-depth. Still Life, Basket of Apples is joined by two paintings from CMOA’s collection: Le Moulin de la Galette (1886–1887), also made during his time in Paris, and Wheat Fields after the Rain (1890), one of his last works.  Together they showcase the evolution of Van Gogh’s use of pigments. These changes were so profound that, in an 1890 letter written shortly before his death, possibly referring to Wheat Fields after the Rain, the artist is utterly captivated by the hues before him, and articulates the importance of color to his artistic practice in the culminating phase of his career:

“The trouble I had in my head has considerably calmed… I am completely absorbed in that immense plain covered with fields of wheat against the hills boundless as the sea in delicate colors of yellow and green, the pale violet of the plowed and weeded earth checkered at regular intervals with the green of the flowering potato plants, everything under a sky of delicate blue, white, pink, and violet. I am almost too calm, a state that is necessary to paint all that.”
–Vincent van Gogh, July 1890

Vincent van Gogh; Wheat Fields after the Rain (The Plain of Auvers), 1890; oil on canvas; Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Vincent van Gogh; Wheat Fields after the Rain (The Plain of Auvers), 1890; oil on canvas; Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Rounding out the installation is Place des Lices, St. Tropez (1893), by Paul Signac,also from the museum’s collection. Signac and Van Gogh met in a Paris paint shop and became friends, occasionally going on painting expeditions together. The work is a stunning example of the Neo-Impressionist color and brushwork that so fascinated Van Gogh. Upon his arrival in Paris, Van Gogh was immediately impressed by this younger movement, called “pointillism,” and its logical approach based on color theory, which caused an art-world stir in the mid-1880s.

“The pointillists have found something new, and I like them very much…”
–Vincent van Gogh, September 1888

Visitors will also find a series of activities on color theory, including a re-creation of one of Van Gogh’s best-known devices for experimenting with colors: a box of yarn in several vivid hues, which can be paired and twisted together to quickly see how different colors interact. Other activities and games investigate the history of color theory, allowing visitors to play with contrasts, colored light, and historical color wheels from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Visiting Van Gogh is a rare chance to encounter four masterpieces from a crucial moment in the life of one of the world’s most celebrated artists, and to get an historical perspective on the ways artists experimented with color during a period of great innovation in painting.


Support for Visiting Van Gogh: Still Life, Basket of Apples is provided by The Henry L. Hillman Fund, the Mary Louise and Henry J. Gailliot Fund for Exhibitions, and Citizens Bank.

General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Carnegie Museum of Art

Located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present. Founded in 1896, the Carnegie International is one of the oldest surveys of contemporary art worldwide. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understand of the built environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. The Hillman Photography Initiative serves as an incubator for innovative thinking about the photographic image. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit our website at

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