Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vincent Van Gogh

  It was remiss of me not to include the name of the painter with the picture on my header, and so I tell you now the story of  Landscape with Snow painted by Vincent van Gogh on February 24th, 1888.

As I reminded myself of the life of Vincent Willem van Gogh, and checked for facts which seem to have reached me by osmosis over the years, I was dreadfully saddened by the frustration and turmoil of his life.

He was born in 1853, the son of a pastor, and his upbringing was religious and cultured.  His sister described him as a 'serious and introspective' child, but it seems as he approached adulthood his ability to cope was affected by a tendency to excesses and mental illnesses.

After several failures as a clerk, an art salesman and a preacher in Belgium where he was dismissed for overzealousness, his brother Theo (four years younger and devoted to Vincent) urged him to apply himself to painting, and throughout the eleven years from 1879 to 1890 Theo supported him financially and with brotherly affection encouraged him.

In 1886 Vincent came to live with Theo in Paris, but two years later, seeking a warmer climate and a brighter atmosphere, he took the train to Arles, in the south of France.  Alas, when he dismounted from the Train in February of that year a he was confronted by a snowy landscape, but four days later, when the snow had begun to melt, he painted Landscape with Snow, the picture in the heading.

It is noted for it's pale lilac colours in the mountains and in patches of bare earth.  A comment made on this work suggests that it may 'have been inspired by the snowy scenes   common to the Japanese prints van Gogh avidly collected, but it also follows conventions of the 17th century Dutch landscape painting in its gradation of color from dark greens and browns framing the foreground to blue sky in the distance, and through the diagonal recession of the road in the snowy landscape.  But, unlike Dutch panoramas with their broad expanse of sky, the present work shows van Gogh concentrating on the terrain between where he stands and the bright red-roofed cottage in the distance".

A few days later Vincent did a similar painting, 'Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background'.

Vincent was able to settle in Arles,  renting four rooms in the famous Yellow House.  In this painting the rooms where he was able to create a studio, have friends in and regard as home are the ones with green shutters.

In the fall of 1888 Vincent invited Paul Gauguin to come and paint with him.  In the beginning they worked well together, producing marvelous sunflower and vineyard pictures.  Van Gogh's picture of The Red Vineyard was the only one of his painting that he sold in his lifetime, for which he received about $1,000.00 in modern money.  In a letter to Theo he describes it thus "a red vineyard, all red like red wine.  In the distance it turned to yellow and than a green sky with the sun, the earth after the rain violet, sparkling here and there where it caught the reflection of the setting sun."

During the years that Vincent painted he was continually plagued by periods of mental illness and after a few weeks the relationship with Gauguin became stormy, culminating in a night when Vincent came at Gauguin with an open razor, and when Gauguin fled, van Gogh cut off part of his own ear.

His illness became more severe.  Eventually he admitted himself to an asylum in Saint-Remy, and in May of 1890, seeming much better, he went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet.  Two months later, on July 29th 1990, and after a fit of painting activity he shot himself in the chest.  He survived for two days, and a devastated Theo was at his side when he died, his last words being 'La tristesse durera toujours' (The sadness will last forever).  Theo, unable to come to terms with his brother's death, died six months later and in 1914 his body was exhumed and buried next to Vincent.

Van Gogh was a prodigious painter and his finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned.  "He was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature".

During his lifetime van Gogh painted thirty self portraits, as an exercise in improving his painting when he could not afford models.  I was impressed by the following video which shows a progression of his life, and presents his portraits at the various stages of his mental health.

Not too many years after his death his fame as a painter grew higher and higher, and today he is recognized as being the most famous of Dutch painters after Rubens.

I was very much affected by reading of Vincent's life, and so it led to A River of Stone.

River Stone #12

My heart sorrows
for those to whom
peace never comes.


fyreflye said...

I'd not seen that Van Gogh painting before, what an amazing artist. I really enjoy reading your blog and I love the pictures of your garden.

Barb said...

At one time, I did a unit on Van Gogh with elementary students - his works and the techniques he used can often be readily identified. And, now that I see the picture in your Header and study it, I "see" it as a Van Gogh - I really don't remember viewing that painting before. It actually reminds me a bit of your countryside, Hildred. Your poem recognizes his life-long torment. I realized when I viewed all the self portraits that he never smiled - his face always wore the mask of unhappiness.

Wanda..... said...

One can see his pain in the video...his paintings don't seem to reflect that though, I love so many of them, to have only sold one himself....seems sad.

Hildred and Charles said...

I was not familiar with this painting either, Barb, but it caught my eye because it reminds me of what it is like here in the Similkameen right now.

Wanda, I read that Vincent painted some of his most joyous paintings in the last three months of his life. Not sure what that says, - perhaps a brave effort to overcome his mental turmoil.

Welcome to blogging, fyreflye - I will be around to visit you again.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Thank you HIldred. Your river stone prayer is just beautiful for others like Van Gogh, as sadly there are so many.

I didn't know the painting and had meant to look it up after I saw it, but forgot.