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AGO's Mystical Landscapes

Words by Here & There Magazine's editorial team

Photos provided by the AGO and H&T team

This fall, visitors to the Art Gallery of Ontario will have the chance to explore the spiritual elements of some of the most prominent paintings in history. Opening on Oct. 22, Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, van Gogh and more takes viewers on an awe-inspiring journey through the works of 37 artists from 14 countries. From Paul Gauguin and Emily Carr to Wassily Kandinsky and Edvard Munch, the exhibit features significant paintings from around the world – including some works that have yet to be seen in North America.


The exhibit – curated in partnership with Musée d'Orsay in Paris – is one of the AGO’s most ambitious projects to date. Boasting several iconic paintings, including Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles from 1888 and Claude Monet's Water Lilies (Nymphéas) from 1907, the exhibit invites visitors to view classic works in a new light. Rather than just showcasing their surface level beauty, Mystical Landscapes examines the spiritual journeys and otherworldly forces that stimulated the artists.


The idea for the exhibit was ignited five years ago when Katharine Lochnan, the AGO’s Senior Curator of International Exhibitions, noticed that several renowned painters from the 18th and 19th centuries were influenced by mystical experiences in nature. The years between 1880 and 1930 were marked by widespread urbanization and as a result, many sought inspiration outside of traditional religious institutions.


To complete the massive exhibit, Lochnan brought together a team of 20 experts, including art historians, religious studies experts, a medical doctor and even an astrophysicist. The group convened at the AGO regularly over the years, continuing to analyze which artists and painting were defined as “mystical” until they narrowed the selection down to an impressive 87 works. Working with guest curators Roald Nasgaard and Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, in addition to Guy Cogeval and Beatrice Avanzi of the Musée d’Orsay, Lochnan’s dedication has made Mystical Landscapes a success.


The exhibit is divided into seven sections, covering influences such as the tranquility of wilderness, the darkness of the World War I and the startling splendor of the cosmos. Standouts include three pieces of a Gauguin triptych that have been assembled and showcased for the first time in history, Georgia O'Keeffe's Series I - from the Plains, which explores the power of thunderstorms in Texas and Edvard Munch's The Sun.


Several Monet pieces command attention for their sheer magnificence but upon closer inspection, deeper ties to Buddhism are evident. As Lochnan points out, Monet's iconic lilies were akin to lotus flowers, a Buddhist symbol of purity. With so much beauty in one exhibit, it’s easy to spend hours looking at these works in silent contemplation.


Mystical Landscapes will be on display in Toronto until January 29, 2017, when it travels to France for its second and final showing. / @agotoronto

Paul Gauguin - Top Left: Christ in the Garden of Olives, 1889, Norton Museum of Art Gift of Elizabeth C. Norton;

                           Bottom Left: Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel); 1888, Scottish National Gallery © National Galleries of Scotland;

                           Right: The Yellow Christ, 1889, Collection Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York; General Purchase Funds, 1946

                           © Albright-Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY/Tom Loonan

Left: Claude Monet - Cathédrale de Rouen, 1893, Collection of Musée d’Orsay;

Right: Edvard Munch - The Sun, 1910-13, Collection of the Munch Museum, Oslo Image courtesy of Munch Museum

Left: Claude Monet - Water Lilies (Nymphéas),1907, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Gift of Mrs. Harry C. Hanszen Courtesy Bridgeman Images;

Right: Ferdinand Hodler - Der Niesen vom Heustrich aus, 1910, Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau

Vincent van Gogh - Left: The Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles, 1888, Collection of Musée d’Orsay, Image courtesy the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France/Bridgeman Images

                                   Right: The Olive Trees, 1889, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest, 1998 © The Museum of Modern Art /

                                   Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY


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