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Starting today: See van Gogh's irises in Minneapolis

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Vincent Van Gogh's "Irises" Saint-Remy-de-Provence
Vincent van Gogh's 'Irises' Saint-Remy-de-Provence, 1890
Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Updated 3:30 p.m. | Posted 8:05 a.m. 

The Minneapolis Institute of Art announced Friday it is adding another marquee work for its centennial celebration. 

Vincent van Gogh's 1890 painting "Irises" will be on display today through Oct. 4, according to the Mia website. The work is the third of the museum's "mystery masterpieces" on display to mark the institute's 100th year.

The works unveiled previously include Raphael's masterpiece "Madonna of the Pinks" and Vermeer's "Woman Reading a Letter." The paintings are part of the Minneapolis museum's Masterpiece in Focus program, highlighted by the display of the works by the three masters on loan from European museums. The van Gogh display is free.

The museum is marking its centennial with 52 "surprises," which include the masterpieces, as well as a variety of other community and educational happenings, like a van Gogh-inspired crop art display near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, an ice sculpture near Lake Calhoun and other non-traditional works and events.

The van Gogh is on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The institute's Nicole Wankel, who helped arrange the display, said van Gogh's tragic life story adds to the interest in his work. 

Van Gogh painted "Irises"  just months before his death of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 29. But as he worked on this painting, he seemed happy. Wankel said the artist wrote to his brother that he was filled with excitement.

"Thanks to his prolific letter writing, we know when he painted this work," she said. "And it was in May of 1890, shortly before he left the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Remy where he was being treated, as you probably know, for mental health issues."

"He wrote ... when he was painting this work, that these last days were a revelation of color for him," she said. "Which this painting exemplified beautifully."

The canvas is thick with paint, the brush strokes clear 125 years after they were applied.

"Irises" was a color study. Van Gogh used bright colors to capture the hues of the flowers. Even today, the painting almost glows. But Wankel said van Gogh knowingly used paint he understood would fade in time, particularly one called geranium lake.

"You can likely see the lighter blue petals when you go up and look at it up close," she said. "That's where there would have been this geranium lake, this red mixed in. So it would have been more violet than the blue that we see today."