Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
Aged 24, during my fist visit to Paris in the winter of 2006, one of the most surprising and pleasant contacts I made was with the Impressionism at the Orsay Museum. Being in front of original masterpieces from the hands of Siseley, Monet, Manet, Pizarro, Renoir, Van Gogh… woke up a great curiosity inside of me towards this artistic movement.
I immediately became fan of them all. But there is one in specific I want to get your attention to: the so called insane, Vincent van Gogh.
Did you know that he died when he was only 37 and started painting professionally when he was over 30? Most of the people think he was born and died poor. The fact is that he was born in the heart of a middle class family in the Netherlands on March 30th, 1853. He was the beloved son of Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus, who unconsciously strongly influenced Vincent as a painter. Anna herself was a painter, too.
On the other hand his father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a priest and was seriously concerned about Vincent’s future. During his early life, he learned English and French and was a brilliant student. By the age of twenty with the help of his uncle bearing the same name, he starts working as an art dealer in London where he establishes in a small room he rented from a family. He immediately falls in love with the landlord’s daughter. Unfortunately, she refuses him several times. This event draws a line in his life. The kind and good-mannered guy, excellent worker and wise man everybody knew in the art gallery, suddenly became mean and unpleasant. The gallery owner decided then to transfer him to the gallery established in Paris, but this did not improve or changed his behavior. So, during his life Vincent was -in chronological order- an art dealer, a teacher, a clergyman, a bookseller, a student of religion and finally, after months of worrying about his future, he decided to follow the advice of his brother Theo and devote himself to art.
The reason why he had such an incongruent résumé is that he was never happy with what he had and he always thought himself a burden for his family.
While Vincent is away from Holland because of all his several jobs, he sends letters to his brother Theo. All Van Gogh’s letters were, naturally enough, written in Dutch. Only during the few years when he was working in the south of Belgium (1879-1880) did he occasionally write to Theo in French1. These letters are crucial , and most of the times considered as a primary reference for an investigation of Van Gogh’s drawings and paintings. They also allow us to get to know him and understand him a little bit better. As far as I understand, these letters exist thanks to the bound between both brothers. It seems to me that they were good friends and that Theo was in a certain way a spiritual guide to Vincent, advising him on what to do, telling him not to worry, and helping him out with his problems. We can see these letters today in the museum dedicated to him in Amsterdam www.vangoghmuseum.com.
There is here an extrat that I want to share with you :
« Je t’écris, encore sous l’impression de ta visite, tout content de pouvoir consacrer à nouveau mes forces à la peinture.
J’aurais voulu t’accompagner à la gare, le lendemain matin, mais je me suis dit que tu m’avais déjà consacré tant de temps, qu’il aurait été indélicat de ma part de te prendre encore ce matin-là. Je te suis très reconnaissant d’être venu et je me réjouis de pouvoir envisager de travailler tout une année durant sans devoir redouter des catastrophes ; en outre, grâce à ce que tu m’as donné, un nouvel horizon s’ouvre devant moi dans le domaine de la peinture.
Je me considère maintenant comme un privilégié parmi des milliers d’autres, parce que tu as aplani les obstacles sur ma route.
Il est évident que ce sont les frais qui empêchent cerains de faire des progrès ; moi, qui ne suis pas dans ce cas, je ne trouve pas des paroles pour t’exprimer ma gratitude de l’occasion que tu m’offres de travailler régulièrement […] .
Je te remercie cordialement pour tout, mon vieux, je te serre la main en pensée, et je vais me remettre au travail. Salue Pa et Moe cordialement de ma part, et dis-leur que je leur écrirai un de ces jours, mais je n’aborderai pas de sujets hors de la ligne, comme il a été convenu.
Adieu, passe de bons jours et je te souhaite un bon retour ».
On 27 July 1890, at the age of 37, he walked into the fields and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He did not realize that his wound was fata. He died there two days later in Auvers. Theo rushed to be at his side and reported his brother’s last words as “La tristesse durera toujours” (French for “the sadness will last forever”). Vincent is buried in the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise.