Image courtesy the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France/Bridgeman Images

In partnership with the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) brings some truly iconic pieces by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Carr, and Eugene Jansson with Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more. The exhibition explores the mystical experiences of 36 artists from 15 countries, and it runs from October 22, 2016 to January 29, 2017.

This is the first time that some of these beloved works have come to Toronto. Some are so rare that they have seldom been shown outside of their home country, while others are considered ‘precious’ and have intentionally been kept obscure. The collection draws on pieces across multiple aesthetics, times, and regions, incorporating notable Canadian works in a global context that spans from 1880–1930.

Mystical Landscapes explores a form of mysticism that was in opposition to the stagnancy of traditional religion. The collection captures the artists’ unmediated spiritual journey, expressed through physical landscapes, depictions of meditative silences, and the cosmos.

Thematically organized, one walks alongside the artists — a stroll through the ‘sacred wood’ is designed to mirror the life journey of the individual. Beginning with works of Paul Gauguin, the triptych “Vision after the Sermon”, “Yellow Christ”, and “Christ in the Garden of Olives” — the first time the pieces are reunited — stands as an altar before the gate of the exhibition. The last piece before the bend is Van Gogh’s “The Olive Trees — an alternative to Gauguin’s “Christ in the Garden of Olive, as it depicts the solitude of an olive grove.

In the ‘contemplative’ section, one sits before Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, which alludes to the flower sermon of the Buddha and the Buddhist principles of enlightenment. The individual is surrounded by pieces that capture the artists’ unity with nature.

In the ‘nocturne’ section, Jansson’s “Blue Views of Stockholmis present. A national treasure produced during World War I that rarely leaves Sweden, it is a silence in contemplative dusk, eliciting divine visions that links the viewer from a liminal phase to the dark regions of the soul.

Drawn away from the bleakness, wilderness comes, as seen through the lens of Canadian painters like Tom Thompson. It ends with Edvard Munch’s “The Sun, depicting an explosion over the sea.

The last room in the exhibit is shrouded in darkness with the cosmos contained; a hopeful note on the future of today’s expanding universe, highlighted appropriately by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone at Arles.”

The exhibition is an argument against convention, offering instead an alternative interpretation of spiritual journey. It spans across cultural contexts to create a holistic narrative through conduits, begging the viewer to walk, sit, and think with this grander artist collective.

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