Tuesday, May 14, 2024


Wheat Fields After Rain 1890  Vincent Van Gogh

A blog post about reading the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh and the anxiety I felt through most of the beautifully written book.    

The letters are full of emotions and excellent descriptive passages of the natural world.  He wrote every few days to his brother Theo, who supported him financially.

Plain near Auvers 1890 Vincent Van Gogh

Two thirds or more of the book takes place before 1888.  There was a big sidetrack in 1885, where he gave away all his belongings and devoted himself to the poor in North Holland.  It was already page 183 and there are only 313 pages in the book.  

I was anxious because I knew he was going to die, and I read his compelling letters and kept reading them as he kept moving around in Holland and England,  becoming a minister, falling in love several times, continuing and continuing to write so beautifully, but not painting.  All through this time, the book was full of descriptions of the country side he saw and how it made him feel.  

I wanted him to start painting.  I wanted him to get on with it.  He did sketches however.  

To learn to look at the landscape at large, in its simple lines and contrasts of light and brown.  Here is a sketch of what I saw today.  That earth was superb in reality, I don't think my study ripe enough yet, but I was struck by the effect, and as to light and shade, it was, indeed, as I draw it for you here.  Drenthe, Holland, 1883.  Vincent.
He admired the artist Millet.  He loved Japanese paintings.  He read Shakespeare.  How would he get all those paintings done?  I skipped ahead.  I looked in the book of his paintings that I owned and began reading it at the same time.  A few of those paintings illustrate this post.  

Poppy Field 1890  Vincent Van Gogh

In 1886, he moved from Holland to Paris to live with Theo for a year.  He started to paint flowers in vases and went outside to paint close ups of grasses and undergrowth.  The paintings with the date of 1887 are from his Paris time and of course there are hardly any letters.  

He didn't move to Arles until February 1888, (page 191).  Immediately very inspired, he started to paint on canvases that he would roll up and send back to Theo to hopefully sell in his gallery.  Vincent described his paintings brilliantly in the letters, along with describing the southern clear light and the simple rural landscapes near Arles. 

Now started his golden three years:  1888, 1889, 1890.  Three years to make all those beautiful paintings when he was 35, 36, 37 years old. 

The Plain at Auvers, 1890 Vincent Van Gogh

He wrote to Theo about the French authors he loved, de Maupassant, Zola.  He wrote about the Impressionists and their work and how he knew that he was a bit different from them.  He wrote about the clarity and simplicity in how the Japanese painted, and how he wanted to make work like they did, as if the artist is part of the landscape.  He read and spoke Dutch, French, and English easily.  He was an intelligent and sensitive correspondent and wrote beautiful letters.

Most of his letters in 1888 to Theo are about how he had invited Paul Gauguin to come to Arles and live with him and how he was waiting for Gauguin's arrival.  All through 1888, he prepared for Gaugin's visit.  He asked Theo for money to get two beds, one for Gauguin, and he set up his little house in preparation for this more famous painter to come and live with him.  He painted a set of sunflower paintings to hang in one of the bedrooms and a set of portraits of local people to hang in the other. He painted the floor and the walls.  He longed for Gauguin to come.  He admired Gauguin.  He wanted to help him out financially by giving him a place to live and artistically by introducing Gauguin to the beautiful climate and light and landscapes of southern France.   

Park of the Asylum at Saint-Remy 1889  Vincent Van Gogh

Gauguin finally arrived in Arles in late October of 1888 and moved in with Vincent and they painted together and talked about their theories of painting.  Then, and this is not fully explained, in late December 1888, after only 8 weeks of having Gauguin in the house with him, Vincent cut off part of his ear. 

The cut was quite dangerous because he had cut through an artery, and had to spend time in hospital, returning several times to hospital because of fainting and anxiety.  Gauguin left Arles immediately and Vincent was on his own again by January of 1889.  He still painted a lot, but he had to keep going back to the hospital in Arles.  

Tree Trunks in the Grass, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent tried to maintain his little house but because of his need for medical care the people of Arles were afraid for him and of him.  He was encouraged to check himself into the asylum in St. Remy where there would be doctors easily available.  He did this in May 1889 and entered into a calm period of his life.  He lived in the asylum for a year, until May 1890.  It was an asylum for people with mental illnesses.

He painted his best work in 1889 and 1890 when he was being taken care of in that Asylum.  He continued to write beautiful letters to Theo.   

Iris 1889  Vincent Van Gogh

The asylum was confining and a bit depressing and after a year in that place, Vincent was encouraged by a doctor friend to move to an inn in Auvers, north of Paris where the doctor lived and practiced.   Dr. Gachet wanted to look after Vincent and visited him regularly.  Dr. Gachet was a good friend and gave Vincent care and support.    
But on July 27 1890, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself during one of his painting trips to a field near Auvers, and died two days later, age 37.   


Liz A said...

thank you for this summation, which has me wanting to read and learn more

Penny Gold said...

Thank you so much for this post. An artist friend has told me a couple of times how important this letter collection has been to him, but with your account of reading the letters, now I understand why. I will now take him up on his offer that I borrow his copy. . .

Julierose said...

You can definitely see that beautiful Japanese influence in his works; I love
his works--I read a book about him a long time ago and found it pretty depressing and yet fascinating...I think this collection of his letters would be a great read. thanks so much for your review...hugs, Julierose

ARTISUN said...

I have studied Vincent in my Art History classes but never to this extent. Now I am inspired to read more and look at his paintings again with more depth and understanding. Thank you for sharing this with us Judy.