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Vincent van Gogh’s Tarascon StagecoachVancouver Art Gallery

A fine antidote to Vancouver's seemingly endless rain can now be found hanging on the walls of the Vancouver Art Gallery: van Gogh's warm and vibrant Tarascon Stagecoach; Cézanne's colourful vertical oil Mont Sainte-Victoire; Degas's evocative nude After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself; and the painting that really launched this extraordinary collection, Chaim Soutine's View of Céret.

New Yorker Henry Pearlman was himself in a dark place, the Second World War, when he saw the painting in a gallery window and decided he must have it. 'He was literally bringing colour and light to their lives,' said his grandson Daniel Edelman on Thursday at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the only Canadian stop for the exhibition Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection (on until May 18).

It was a pivotal acquisition that changed the focus of Pearlman's collecting. 'I suspect when he bought that in 1945, most people thought he was completely nuts,' says Ian Thom, the VAG's senior curator-historical. The Pearlmans were not one-percenters – his grandfather wasn't a Barnes or a Carnegie, Edelman says; in fact, he was known to borrow from wife Rose's household fund to make an art purchase.

But Pearlman had passion and a good eye, and amassed a gutsy collection that includes 24 works by Cézanne. One of them, the still life on paper Three Pears, provoked a fight at auction between Degas and Renoir. Degas won.

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