Sunday, August 17, 2008

My European Trip 3 -- Vincent van Gogh

月亮和六便士都在眼前,是为一份六便士的生活疲于奔命?还是为仰望心中那轮明月而有所放弃? 其实门一直都开着,问题只在于我们的脚步去留不定。
---- 题记

Before visiting Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I only know that this Dutch artist created some of the world's best known, most popular and most expensive works. What I don't know is his diligence, passion, tragic life and friendship. Van Gogh's Life, this special exhibition presented me how this great artist devoted his life to painting.

Please first allow me to express my respect and admiration with this sunflower picture, which I took in France. (The museum prohibits using cameras. So let me use this as a substitute.) Vincent, you would still love these brilliant sunflowers, wouldn't you?


Sunflowers in the countryside of the Loire Valley, France

In 1880 Vincent van Gogh decided to become an artist. He was 27 years old at the time and had already been employed in a variety of professions, as a lay preacher, a schoolmaster and an art dealer, none of which had proved a great success. However, his evolution from an inept but impassioned novice into a truly original master was remarkably rapid. Ever since then, he produced 900 paintings, 1,100 drawings and 800 letters in the last ten years of his life. Most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years till his suicide in 1890.

In December 1888, Van Gogh cut off a piece of his left ear following a breakdown in his friendship with Paul Gauguin. After this he suffered recurrent bouts of mental illness, which led to his suicide at the age of 37. "I feel like a failure," he wrote, "I feel as though this is my fate, and that it will no longer change."


Van Gogh's earlier need to serve people, arising from his religious calling, eventually became -- as he himself wrote -- a strong desire to leave "a certain souvenir" to humankind "in the form of drawings or paintings, not made to comply with this or that school but to express genuine human feeling".

His oeuvre, inextricably tied to the tragedy of his life, is still an invaluable source of inspiration to many. If you have further interest, you could see two movies Lust for Life, and Van Gogh.

Selected Works

(I did no shopping throughout this European trip, except hundreds of postcards and posters. I reproduced the following pictures from my posters.)

Van Gogh created a highly distinctive style of painting -- using expressive brush strokes and vivid colors.

I really like his BEDROOM and the idea behind when he created this painting. He wrote that he wishes this painting, with the simple forms and bright, contrasting color planes to represent "rest" and "sleep". "I want to make it really an artist's home -- not precious, ... but everything from the chairs to the pictures having characters. "

"This time it's just simply my bedroom, only here color is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination." ---- Vincent, in a letter to his brother Theo.


The BLOSSOMING ALMOND TREE may not be Van Gogh's best known painting, but surely is my favorite. This is a painting with deep love and hope, devoted to his newborn nephew.

On January 31, 1890, Theo (his younger brother) wrote to Vincent of the birth of his son, whom he had named Vincent Willem. Van Gogh, was greatly moved and immediately set about making him a painting of his favorite subject: blossoming branches against a blue sky. As a symbol of this new life, Vincent chose an almond tree, which blooms early in southern regions, announcing the coming spring.

This painting remains a tour-de-force, both the product of Vincent's fondness for the child as well as for the Japanese art which he so greatly admired.

"My work was going well, the last canvas of branches in blossom--you will see that it was perhaps the best, the most patiently worked thing I had done, painted with calm and with a greater firmness of touch. " -- Letter 628 Vincent to Theo, April 15, 1890.


Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin

Van Gogh’s SUNFLOWERS is probably one of the world's most expensive paintings. This painting, as you may not know, was first hung by Vincent as a welcoming decoration in a bedroom that he had prepared for Paul Gauguin in the famous Studio of the South.

The Studio of the South is located in Arles, a provincial town in the south of France, which witnessed the intensely dramatic and nearly fatal relationship of the two of the greatest artists in modern art, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Few men have struggled so manfully with their demons or suffered so much for their art.

Initially, Van Gogh invited Gauguin, because he hoped that they could reinvent and reinvigorate art outside the established Parisian art world. However, as Gauguin wrote in his 1903 memoir, "Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling inwardly too, a sort of struggle was preparing.'' On the Christmas Eve of 1888 a frenzied Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a straight razor and then hacked part of his own ear lobe off and collapsed.

In 1890, Vincent committed suicide, heartbroken. Gauguin, although more outwardly attractive and successful, ended up spending the next fifteen years searching for an imaginary lost paradise in Tahiti - syphilitic, broke and ultimately alone. Yet he continued to write with special affection of Van Gogh who was his friend and of his appreciation of Vincent's genius.

The story of their relationship is well captured through Irving Stone's bestseller "Lust for Life". For an vivid artistic description of their relationship, I recommend this website. Also, there is a special exhibition using original masterpieces to portray the complete stories in the South of the Studio, please click here.

Van Gogh and Gauguin's story remembers me of another painting,
IRISES (1890) by Van Gogh, which he emphasized an effect of enormously divergent complementary colors, and said "[whose] contrasts makes them stand out all the more strongly". Does it exist such a relationship of "making them stand out all the more strongly, but in a harmonious way"?

Harmony? It may well persist in an artist's works, but rarely exists in his personal life. Many years ago, I by chance read a novel by W. Somerset Maugham
, The Moon and Sixpence. It is said that the novel was adapted from Paul Gauguin's real life. The story tells about the miserably rocky road of Charles Strickland, a middle-aged stock broker who abandons family and wealth abruptly in order to pursue his desire of painting.

The moon symbols the starry sky, while sixpence is the smallest currency in England at that time. It is said that a friend ever joked with Maugham that people tend to forget sixpence at their feet whereas looking up the starry sky. Maugham found it interestingly fitted the theme of this novel, then named it so. The moon and sixpence, the ideal and the reality.

With the choice between the moon and sixpence, will you run off your feet for a living? Or to give it up for the chaste moon in your heart? The door is always open. The only obstacle is your hesitation.
-- Jennie

Epilogue: It took me extra time to write this article, far beyond my expectation. Reading through Van Gogh's life again, especially the triumph and tragedy in the South of the Studio, I was deeply touched so that had to stop writing and thinking for several times. Still, I felt I failed to depict a whole picture of Van Gogh. I could only extract my feelings to some words and share a little with you, personally. Again, let me present these sunflowers to this great artist.


The photo was taken in the south of France

According to a friend's suggestion, I put a YouTube video here. It is a song called Vincent (also named Starry Starry Night) by Don Mclean. This song is perfectly melt with representative paintings by Vincent van Gogh. -- Thank you, Willy!

Next stop: Kinderdijk


Willy Feng said...

You should try this famous song, Vincent, by Don McLean along with many Vicent's paintings. You can see how the slides coordinate with the song.

asani said...

Nicely written, Jennie! "Bedroom" is also one of my favorites, although I don't find anything restful about it. To me, it seems everything in the room is tumbling towards and away from me, in complete chaos. The bright colors are the colors of madness.

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