Edwards to Deliver 4th Annual Powell-Edwards Lecture in Religion and the Arts on Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘ghost paintings’

Van Gogh events include art show, public display of an etching discovered at VCU

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Cliff Edwards, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and religious studies at VCU, remembers making a remarkable discovery in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Back in the 1990s, while waiting in President’s House to meet with former VCU President Eugene P. Trani, Edwards glanced over the head of an administrative assistant and saw a small etching in a dark corner of the hallway.

He recognized it immediately as an etching by Vincent van Gogh. Edwards said the etching, which was later authenticated, was a gift to the university in the 1970s from Henry Hibbs, former president of Richmond Professional Institute, which merged with the Medical College of Virginia to become Virginia Commonwealth University in 1968.

It is no surprise that Edwards recognized the etching. He has studied the famous Dutch post-impressionist painter for 40 years and has written three books on van Gogh’s spiritual search: “Van Gogh and God,” “The Shoes of Van Gogh” and “Mystery of the Night Café.” His latest effort is titled “Van Gogh’s Ghost Paintings.”

Edwards came across descriptions of the ghost paintings and descriptions of van Gogh’s conflict and anguish over their creation and destruction in letters van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo and young artist friend Emile Bernard in the summer and fall of 1888.  

“Van Gogh painted an image of Jesus at Gethsemane, scraped it off and 75 days later, he painted it again and scraped it off,” Edwards said. “This is one of his most significant and revealing paintings by van Gogh because never before and never again did he create an image from the life of Jesus. Imagine how it was so important to the artist that he painted twice but he was so conflicted, he destroyed it twice. I call those paintings ‘Van Gogh’s Ghost Paintings.’”

Edwards will discuss “Van Gogh’s Ghost Paintings” at the 4th Annual Powell-Edwards Lecture in Religion And The Arts, which takes place on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 p.m. in the Richmond Salons of the VCU Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave. The lecture is free and open to the public and a reception will follow.

Edwards also worked with local art gallery Art6 to create a show that focuses on the ghost paintings. A call to artists in all media resulted in more than 100 submissions from across the country. The works recreate the destroyed ghost paintings or focus on the theme of works that one creates and destroys, as well as the meaning of such creation and destruction.

The works will be available for public viewing beginning with First Friday on March 2 and will remain at the gallery through the end of March. Art6 is located at 6 E. Broad St. Edwards will discuss the ghost paintings as part of “The Pinckney Near Memorial Lectures in Art History” on Sunday, March 4, at 4 p.m. at Art6.

"Man with a Pipe (Dr. Gachet)," the etching discovered in President’s House, will be displayed for the public on Tuesday, March 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Special Collections and Archives, fourth floor, James Branch Cabell Library. Edwards will discuss the etching, which is part of the permanent collection of the VCUarts Anderson Gallery; its creation; and the connection to VCU. A reception will follow.