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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crazy Attraction to Van Gogh Draws Thousands to Exhibit

WASHINGTON -- There's something about Vincent Van Gogh that seems to drive people crazy.

Crazy enough to line up before dawn in hopes of snaring a ticket to an exhibition of 72 of his paintings. Crazy enough to pay a scalper to avoid waiting in line.

"[Van Gogh's] work is very direct. It has a very direct emotional appeal for people," said curator Philip Conisbee. "It has a peculiar intensity.

"There's the whole romantic story of his life, the genius neglected in his own time, his attacks of anxiety. ? It gives him some added allure," Conisbee said.

Washingtonians and visitors started the frenzy for Van Gogh weeks before a new show, "Van Gogh's Van Goghs" opened Sunday at the National Gallery of Art. Featuring works from Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, which is being refurbished, the exhibition runs through Jan. 3.

All of the advance tickets were gone before the opening; the gallery gives away about 1,800 tickets to see the show each weekday and some 1,600 on Sundays, when the museum's hours are shorter. More than 4,000 patrons saw the show on opening day.

"I think the myth gets in the way of looking calmly at the pictures," Conisbee, the gallery's curator of European paintings, said in a telephone interview.

Van Gogh's life story is integral to the myth, including his impoverished existence as an artist, his tortured relationships with women, his commitment to a mental asylum and his suicide in 1890. The National Gallery's show reflects this tragic image of the artist.

Instead of the well-known renditions of irises and sunflowers, the exhibition is dominated by some of Van Gogh's darker works, such as "The Potato Eaters," "Flying Fox" and "Wheatfield with Crows," one of the last paintings made before his death. Some of Van Gogh's thoughts on these works provide commentary to the exhibit.

Describing "Wheatfield with Crows" to his brother, Theo, Van Gogh wrote in July 1890, "They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not have to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness." Writing about another painting, "Wheatfield with a Reaper," which makes a golden field of grain look like a roiling sea, Van Gogh told Theo: "I see in this reaper the image of death in the sense that humanity might be the wheat he is reaping ?" Besides Van Gogh's strong use of color and brush strokes and his tragic history, there is another aspect of the myth that draws people to this exhibit, Conisbee said.

Van Gogh sold very few paintings while he lived, and "suddenly now they fetch millions," Conisbee said. "This engages people." In a few months, the exhibition moves to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it will show from Jan. 17 to April 4.

Information about the exhibit is available at the National Gallery web site