Van Gogh Madness Hits D.C.

Inside the National Gallery of Art, there are seventy beautiful and provocative paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Outside, people are lining up for the blockbuster exhibit that touched off a bout of Van Gogh delirium in jaded Washington.

"He's a great painter. I think his paintings are very direct immediate statements. I think they really do reach our emotions, " says Philip Conisbee, a curator at the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibit of paintings from Amsterdam has been years in the making.

How did it happen? It was a stroke of luck for the U.S. when the Van Gogh Museum, which draws a million visitors every year, announced that it would be shutting down for renovations.

CBS News visited the Gallery, just before it closed, to speak with Director John Leighton, about the works coming to the United States.

"We wanted to give an idea of the, the range of Van Gogh...So, included in the selection are some more experimental works, small studies like an almond blossom sitting in a glass or the bat with its wings spread out. Alongside of course, exist the more familiar picture book masterpieces," says Leighton.

The exhibit traces Van Gogh's short, brilliant ten-year career.
There are dark paintings, like the Potato Eaters, done in his native Holland and bright, light colors from Paris, where he experimented with Impressionism.

Also on display will be the dazzling work done in southern France, painted before a depression, or a fit of epilepsy, that drove the painter to cut off his ear.

The sad, loneliness of his life is part of Van Gogh's appeal, but the real story is his artistry.

"He did sometimes paint in a frenzy, but his art is very rationally conceived, carefully constructed. There's nothing mad or lunatic about his paintings at all," says Conisbee.

Finally, Van Gogh went to live in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, outside of Paris. But even as he was felt a renewed sense of creativity, there was an air of foreboding. He committed suicide and died in July 1890.

Van Gogh once wrote, "You need a certain dash of inspiration, a ray from on high in order to do beautiful things," never realizing of course that that's exactly what he achieved.

Reported by CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver