Vincent knew it…


The letter I will cite you a phrase from was written the 04 th of May 1890. Vincent Van Gogh was, at the time, preparing to move out from the St. Remy de Provence asylum to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he hopped Dr. Gachet, “the friend of artists”, will help him. He also wanted to return to more northern places, the south of France, with its great, blinding sun and the maddening “mistral”, having got the best of him… Even the best things, in excess, could do you harm…

Vincent was, at the time, recovering from another “attack” of his sickness (not even now, almost 120 years later, the specialists couldn’t decide, for sure, what his sickness was: epilepsy? schizophrenia? any other of a great number of other mental sicknesses? that proves how scientific psychiatry and psychology are, for that matter…) He wanted to get out of the asylum as soon as possible since he knew “that attacks like the one I have just had have invariably been followed by three or four months of complete calm” and h planned to settle in Auvers-sur-Oise before another attack happened… By the way, about three months later he will put a bullet in his belly (or around… this detail is not sure either) which kind of strenghtens the explanation that he killed himself, partially, at least, because he was afraid of totally losing his mind…

But what really got my attention in this letter 631 from the 04 th of May 1890 was the following phrase :

…”I shall be out of doors over there. I’m sure that my zest for work will get the better of me and make me indifferent to everything else, as well as put me in a good humour.

It’s no big discovery or surprise here. Probably the Anciens (Greeks and Romans, Indians and Chinese, etc.) knew this already. The beneficial effect of working on something you love to work – in Vincent’s case – drawing and painting, is no spectacular novelty. Still, to read his words on this, a few months before his suicide, and to know from my own experience how much good can do you to passionately draw and paint when you are down, blue and ready to burst did a lot of good to me. Maybe some others will read about this and drawing and painting (or, for that matter, writting or singing, sculpting or dancing, etc. any other creative endeavor) will be again a life saver… Ok, it was just a life improver for Vincent (and probably he killed himself only when he thought that he was declining in his work or that another attack will prevent him for ever drawing and painting again…) but that doesn’t mean it cannot work out for a lot of others, out there… I can testify to that myself and a lot of other people, from all times, would have been living a miserable life if this “creative endeavor” would have not existed…

I illustrate this post with a portrait painted by Vincent in his last days of staying at the St. Remy asylum, a portrait which is not the first of this kind in his work (an early drawing called “Facing eternity” – or something to this effect – may have been the inspiration for this; or he could have painted another old resident of the asylum):

Vincent Van Gogh, “Le viel homme triste” , Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Amsterdam

5 responses to “Vincent knew it…

  1. Yes, he did like the best one !

  2. He couldn’t keep those bright colors out of even as sad, as grim a subject as this one, could he? Are bright colors only for joy?

  3. IMHO, swallows, I think that in this one, even if there are some bright colors (the blue especially) the design, the composition, the attitude of the old man are more important than the color. To me, despite the bright color, the sadness is evident… But that’s an interesting challenge: to do a very dramatic/sad painting with bright colors… not impossible, I reckon…

  4. Danu, I read his letters a few years ago and I was left with the impression he killed himself partly or in most part to not be a burden on his brother anymore. He mentions it quite a few times in his letters, it must have caused him a tremendous anguish not being able to support himself on his own. He did cause financial problems for his brother. And now Theo was married, and they were expecting a child – imagine how he must have felt. Even a healthy person could end his life in a desperate moment under such circumstances.
    I haven ‘t seen the painting of the old patient before, it’s very powerful indeed.

  5. Yes, erica, I also think that was ONE of the reasons – suicide is a tricky bussiness and reasons are almost always more than one only – maybe even the most important… Who can really tell?

    As for the painting, even if he painted it in his last (or before last) period he did used a drawing from the Hague or Anvers period, almost identical and called On the brick of Eternity… Thanks for the visit.

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