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In recent years there has been a sea change in the official cult surrounding the Post-Impressionist Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). For the masses he is still the archetypal “crazy artist”: razor blade in one hand, severed ear in the other, and a lovely picture of sunflowers on the easel behind him. But, for those who have invested heavily in his reputation — the main museums holding his art, such as the Kroller-Muller in the Netherlands and the Van Gogh Amsterdam — this particular mad artist card has been so overplayed, there are now attempts underway to present the artist in a saner light.

A collection of Van Gogh’s letters published earlier this year, compiled by scholars from the Van Gogh Museum, was prefaced with an essay “The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters” that debunked the notion of the man as an accursed genius whose art flowed directly from mental illness. The exhibition now at the National Art Center, Tokyo, “Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist,” largely sourced from these two museums, understandably follows suit.

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