The Art Gallery of Ontario is currently the lucky host of an incredibly unique exhibit on nature and mysticism. Mystical Landscapes is a gathering of works by iconic artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, and O’Keefe, as well as works from Canadian masters such as Emily Carr and Group of Seven member, Lawren Harris.

Photo | Courtesy of the AGO

I had the chance to have a tour of the exhibit led by Katharine Lochnan, the AGO’s senior international exhibition curator. Walking into the exhibit, which is extensive and spans the second-floor special exhibition space of the AGO, I was first struck by the vibrancy of colours on the walls. I recognized the style of painters such as Paul Gauguin or Egon Schiele, and of course, the incredibly famous Water Lilies by Monet and Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles by Van Gogh. Many of the works toward the beginning dealt with religious iconography, some more subtly than others. Lochnan explained to me that the trees in a Gaugin painting “symbolized the columns in nature’s temple.” This is what the exhibit conveys in essence; the link between spirituality, nature, and the way artists represent them.

Paintings are the mediums between artists and visitors. Lochnan explains that her curatorial intent with the show was to invite people to think about the role of spirituality in their own lives. This can include religion, but also any form of mysticism. According Lochnan, many of her co-curators were agnostic.

The works are placed together in the AGO’s space according to different themes, such as elements, planets, and storms. Lochnan wanted visitors to see beyond the surface of works, like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for example, and examine the mystical experiences that may have impacted the artist’s work. Van Gogh had a religious past and Lochnan argues that his paintings reflect his mental states: consolation versus desolation. In the case of Starry Night, Van Gogh was in a state of consolation. Many of these painters were Symbolists, and the paintings are what you make of them. Some of the lesser known names in the exhibition include Charles-Marie Dulac, Eugene Jansson, and Henri Le Sidaner.

The University of Toronto also played a role in the making of this exhibition, as the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House lent the Lawren Harris piece, and theological colleges have been involved in researching and counselling the subject. Lochnan mentions that she has received an immense amount of positive feedback from visitors about the exhibit; the project seems to have deeply affected many visitors, and resonates with people from all walks of life.

This is one of the AGO’s biggest productions to date, with an impressive array of paintings and artists from different backgrounds. It comprises 113 different works from 36 artists, and they are mostly loans from different museums and foundations across Europe, North America, and Scandinavia. The show is five years in the making, and as Lochnan explains, there will always be more room for growth. Although the exhibit has already taken over one of the biggest fine art museums in Canada, and is soon moving to the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, it is still a work in progress. The exhibit is still on at the AGO until February, 2017, so there is still time to make a trip if you want to witness one of the museum’s biggest shows in recent memory.

Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Money, Van Gogh and More runs until February 12th at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Student general admission and entry to the exhibit is $16.50 on ago.net.