reviews, storytelling

Van Gough – art and angst

Wheat Field with Cypresses, Saint-Remy, Oil on Canvas, 1889
Wheat Field with Cypresses, Saint-Remy, Oil on Canvas, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, that glorious nutter, was born today in 1853. He died at the age of 37 after a short life filled with genius and despair.

Front CoverSome years ago I read Martin Gayford’s book The Yellow HouseVan Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence. This excellent work used old letters to reconstruct the few months Van Gogh spent living and working with Paul Gauguin in a house in Arles. I was left with the overriding feeling that Vincent wanted nothing more in life than to be loved and understood (I can so relate to that).

Vincent invited Gauguin to stay because he deeply admired his work and imagined he could learn much from the older man. Before his arrival Vincent painted his iconic Sunflowers series just to decorate the walls of Gauguin’s room in the Yellow House! But Van Gogh’s mental illness made him erratic and volatile and his dreams of founding a collaborative artistic commune with Gauguin rapidly fell apart.

The wonderful painting above was made during Van Gogh’s time at Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. I’ve visited this beautiful town a few times. It really is surrounded by the distinctive hills that Van Gogh reproduced so perfectly in his works. I love these places – Arles and Saint-Rémy – but their beauty is tinged for me by thoughts of poor Vincent and his sufferings. I feel the same way about his wonderful, vibrant, disturbed and magnificent paintings.

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