Mia’s latest coup: bringing Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ to town

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Mia director of learning innovations Karleen Gardner, right, and daughter Katharine at the unveiling of “Irises, Saint-Rémy-de Provence,” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

How to top an exquisite little Raphael and a luminous Vermeer? With van Gogh’s “Irises, Saint-Rémy-de Provence,” now at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and revealed to gasps and applause at 8:30 this morning.

Not that it has been a competition, but Mia’s birthday-year “Masterpiece in Focus” program – which has brought three famous paintings to Minneapolis from great European museums – has crescendoed nicely. Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter,” borrowed from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, here from Jan. 16 – May 3, was a revelation. Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks,” on loan from London’s National Gallery from May 15 – Aug. 9, brought us close to genius.

But van Gogh is arguably the most famous painter in the world. Just in from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (it arrived only yesterday, accompanied by a courier from the museum), “Irises” will be on view in the Cargill Gallery on Mia’s first floor through Oct. 4.

Nicole Wankel, paintings department assistant under curator Patrick Noon, the mastermind behind the “Masterpiece” initiative, introduced the painting to the donors, staff and press at the big reveal. She admits that when she learned which painting was coming, “I literally squealed.”

Van Gogh painted “Irises” in May 1890, shortly before leaving the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Remy; he died in July of that year at age 37. In a letter the artist wrote to his brother, Theo, he described the painting as a color study, calling attention to how the bouquet of flowers stood out against the lemon-yellow background – how the background made the purples and blues stronger.

“The contrast in this painting is powerful,” Wankel said, “but it would have been stronger when it was first painted. Van Gogh used a color called Geranium Lake that is highly light sensitive. It fades over time. He knew this, but he used it with abandon. … In a letter to Theo, he wrote that paintings fade like flowers.”

When you see the painting – and you’ll be able to get close enough to search for these kinds of details – look for the light blue petals, the ones that seem almost unfinished. These are likely where van Gogh used Geranium Lake.

Wankel pointed out a few more things she wants us to notice: the meticulous, intentional brushstrokes, especially around the edges of the flowers and leaves, and the bloom at the very top. Areas near the flowers that look like shadows are probably where van Gogh was working so quickly he didn’t clean his brushes, so blue and yellow mixed together, creating green.

Near the table line are small raised daubs of paint. “Those are my favorite parts,” Wankel said. “I always wonder – is there a chunk of brush in there? Are there little pieces of brush hair? Of his own red hair?” There’s even a tiny triangle of naked canvas. 


For 10 years, members of the celebrated and adventuresome New York-based string quartet Brooklyn Rider have presented a small but jaw-dropping summer music festival in Stillwater, trying out new music and playing with friends like Bela Fleck, Martin Hayes, Kayhan Kalhor and Aoife O’Donovan. They have announced that this festival will be their last, and they’re bringing superstar mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter to help them say goodbye.

“As Brooklyn Rider moves forward in our musical adventures,” they said in a statement, “it has become too difficult to sustain the responsibilities required to put on a great festival. We know we will be returning as a quartet to Minnesota many, many times in the future – it just won’t be under the umbrella of the Stillwater Music Festival. But we are going out with a blast!”

Here’s the schedule, with links to tickets when needed:

Tuesday, Aug. 25 at the Washington County Historic Courthouse: Stillwateriade: An Evening Celebrating 10 Years of the Stillwater Musical Festival. Brooklyn Rider plays favorites from their repertoire in an hourlong, salon-style program, with champagne toast. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25 general admission, $10 students. Seating limited to 100.

Wednesday, Aug. 26 at the Stillwater Public Library: Free Family Concert. An hourlong program for all ages. No reservations required.

Thursday, Aug. 27 at Trinity Lutheran Church: Stillwater Music Festival Farewell Concert with Anne Sofie von Otter. Recent works by Colin Jacobsen, Caroline Shaw, John Adams and Nico Muhly and arrangements of songs by Bjork, Sting, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Kate Bush and others. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $25 general admission, $10 students

The picks

Tonight (Friday, Aug. 21) at Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights: Sounds of Minnesota Drum and Bugle Corps Competition. More than 500 musicians and color guard members will play and march precise drills before a panel of judges. Top all-age drum corps from Minnesota and Wisconsin will compete, including 2011 Drum Corps Associates World Champions the Govenaires (St. Peter) and Minnesota Brass (St. Paul). The Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band and other ensembles will appear in exhibition. Gates at 6 p.m., show at 7. $10 at the gate. Kids 6 and under free.

Tonight at Patrick’s Cabaret: Singer/Songwriter Series. Venus de Mars guest curates the latest installment of a series that mixes established and emerging locals, all presenting original works in a storyteller-style format. Joining de Mars on stage will be Karen Townsend (songwriter, vocalist, accordion player, improviser, member of the Prairie Fire Lady Choir), Javier Carresco (Spanish/Slavic/Peruvian songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, rock and blues musician) and Jeffrey Skemp (poet, performer, multi-media artist, member of Bosso Poetry Company).  8 p.m. $10 at the door.

Bettye Lavette
Photo by Carol Friedman
Bettye Lavette

Monday at the Dakota: Bettye Lavette. There’s no downside to an evening with the magnificent Miss Lavette, a soul singer who fills every word and phrase with truth, emotion and a lifetime of experience. She had a #7 R&B hit in 1962 but never broke through and remained a cult favorite until 2003, when her first big album, “A Woman Like Me,” was released and won the W.C. Handy Award. More recordings, more awards and two Grammy nominations followed, plus performances at the Kennedy Center Honors and President Obama’s inaugural concert. Her latest album, “Worthy,” includes songs by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Lennon and McCartney, Joe Henry, and Bob Dylan. Here’s the trailer. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40-$45).

Monday at Magers & Quinn: Rachel Hills and Kate Harding. A conversation among two feminist authors who tell it like it is, so leave the little ones with a sitter. Hills is the author of “The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality.” Once we were dirty if we had sex; now we’re defective if we don’t do it enough. Hills might have a few things to say about Addyi, the “female Viagra” that won FDA approval Tuesday. In her brand-new book, “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It,” Harding makes the case that 21st-century America supports rapists more effectively than victims and suggests ways to change that. Co-presented with the Riveter, the longform women’s lifestyle magazine. 7 p.m. Free.

Tuesday at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral: Sen. Amy Klobuchar talk and book signing. In her new book “The Senator Next Door: A Memoir from the Heartland,” Klobuchar writes about her childhood, career path, family life and accomplishments here and in Washington. This is the official book release date, a big day for any author, even a senator. The talk is free, but be sure to register. Buy a book when you register and your copy will be waiting for you. Co-presented with Magers & Quinn. 7 p.m.  

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/23/2015 - 09:02 am.


    What is the preferred pronunciation of “MIA”?

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