Van Gogh Was a Lucky Bastard! He Sold Every Single Painting He Painted!


Of course, some would doubt that he was that lucky (I have doubts myself…) and, of course, he was the legitimate son of Theodorus Van Gogh, the pastor from Nuenen, and not a bastard. But that’s the expression, it seems, when one wants to express, strongly express, that another was (is) lucky…

As for the second assertion in the title, some would no doubt doubt my own soundness of mind (relatively OK, Thank You!)

It is true that both afirmations in my title are totally opposed to the Legend, to the Myth Van Gogh: Vincent, the cursed artist, the mad genius, starving and miserable, cutting of his ear out of  dispair, not having sold but one painting in all his life… Well, we already saw how much truth that legend has (if it were the Truth one wouldn’t call it “legend”…)

I would not assume the merit of for these small discoveries. They become evident, to me, after reading some of the enormous bibliography about Van Gogh, most of which is, of course, a worthless repetition and variants on the same theme: Vincent Van Gogh, the Mad Genius, blah-blah… But, of course, there are some very good, passionate and serious authors who wrote about Vincent, not for the glory or for the money (even if those are not diabolical or bad per se…) but because, in fact, his letters and his paintings are something definitely worth studying not only from the point of view of art history but also as an extraordinary sample of the creativity of man. Almost no other case of great artist in history documented as well as Vincent’s letters and paintings do the intimate process of human creativity.  Maybe, Delacroix, with his Journal?

Some of those serious, passionate authors (besides M.E. Tralbaut, Jan Hulsker and lately Naifeh & Smith) is Wouter Van Der Veen & Peter Knapp(both with extraordinary qualifications to speak about Van Gogh’s life and work). These two authors wrote (and respectively illustrated) a very interesting study of the Auvers period, the last in Vincent’s life and work (Vincent Van Gogh à Auvers, Éditions du Chêne – Hachette, 2009) and, to my knowledge, they were the first to strongly underline this idea that, in fact, Vincent Van Gogh SOLD EVERY PAINTING HE PAINTED.

This surprisingly new perception of the facts ( for these are FACTS not speculations or suppositions or PSYCHOLOGICAL BLAH-BLAH – sadly so very often found in Van Gogh’s bibliography)  THIS NEW PERCEPTION is, once you’ve seen it, SO EVIDENT, SO POIGNANT, that one begins to understand why it hasn’t been seen before…

The facts: since the very beginning of his artistic career and til the bitter end, becoming more and more precise and definite in time, Vincent Van Gogh had even better than a Mecena: he had a contract with an art dealer, his brother Theo. Theo paid Vincent a consistent sum of money (not an enormous one but one which was consistent: about 200 francs per month, often more; M. Roulin, Vincent’s friend from Arles, a family man with 3 children, had a job that paid 135 francs per month and he was able to assure a decent living of his family with those…) and Vincent send all the paintings and drawings he produced to Theo, whom he considered THE RIGHTFUL OWNER of his production. If there were, maybe,  ambiguities at the beginning (Theo being the loving brother and all) there were none in the last years of Vincent’s life. It was a very well defined, precise and legal, products for money contract. Theo gave the money (for Vincent daily subsistence and painting materials) and Vincent gave the paintings and drawings. It is very clear contract and there are lots of references at this in their letters.

In the authors own words (from the Introduction; p.13):

“Considering the deal he made with his Mecena, Theo, we can say that Van Gogh sold all his paintings, with the exception of those given to models or exchanged with other artists. Theo, keeping intact the collection, made the fortune of his family. So, there is nothing “revolting” in the fact that Vincent “sold nothing” in his lifetime, on the contrary.” (p. 13)

Considering all that happened after Vincent’s and Theo’s death, the way his heritage was passed to Vincent Willem, his grandson/son (administrated by Johanna Bonger – Van Gogh until his coming of age) without any opposition from Vincent & Theo’s family (it is true that, before let’s say, 1905, his paintings were practically worthless…and he, Vincent, was not very admired or respected by the remaining family…) the reality of this CONTRACT Vincent – Theo is quite evident. A supplementary merit of Van Veen & Knapp book is a very interesting and well documented history of the posterity of Vincent’s heritage in which, of course, Jo Bonger – Van Gogh has the main role. It is a very well deserved homage to Jo, a homage that Naifeh & Smith and many other authors paid too.

She is one of the main authors (if not THE AUTHOR)  of the Van Gogh “miracle” that made from a quasi unknown, obscure painter, a universally recognized genius (not to mention one of the most expensive one…) in the history of art.

In this respect, yes, Vincent was a lucky bastard…

As for his suffering, very real and intense, no doubt about that, here it is what van der Veen & Kanpp have to say:

” Vincent accepted his fate which he didn’t considered too bad. He knows he suffered a lot but he also knows that it was his conscious choice to suffer. Ten years before, when he was persuaded that he must become either a pastor or an evangelizer, the suffering was even the main cause for his engagement. Even before discovering that Jean-François Millet considered suffering as an indispensable ingredient of his talent, Van Gogh considered that only the suffering could lead to sublime.” p. 36

I will conclude with a citation from David Sweetman’s book “The Love of Many Things” (1990 – I’ve read the French translation of this one, Une vie de Vincent Van Gogh, Presses de la Rennaissance, 1990) another well documented and well written biography of Vincent Van Gogh:

“So, despite his miserable life, Vincent had finally an extraordinary chance. Not only Theo was an indefectible back up but also the Theo’s widow took it on her own, as her life goal, to build his reputation, followed in that by his son (and Vincent’s nephew, whom he had hold on his knees maybe two or three times).With an exemplary obstinacy, Vincent Willem kept together most of his uncle’s works and made them accessible to the largest public possible.  And it’s exactly this public that makes Vincent’s story not a sad and hopeless one but, on the contrary, eminently happy. Who could deny that because of these large number of people of all nationalities,  who gather before his paintings and drawings, Vincent finally had touched to one of the goals he had most ardently desired and cherished: to make his art accessible to the largest number of people possible ?” (p. 455)

Note. The citation  were in French and I’ve translated them. So, if there are any errors they are entirely mine. Mea culpa. Sorry.

7 responses to “Van Gogh Was a Lucky Bastard! He Sold Every Single Painting He Painted!

  1. Comentarii foarte interesante…

  2. fascinating stuff there! Thank you for this!

  3. I’ve loved reading about your changing perceptions of your hero, Vincent. Wonderful and fascinating. Your love for him shines through, always.

    • I have with him a bumpy love affair just like with myself: I love him, I hate him, I love him, I hate him…(jocking, Moonbeem! but glad you like it)…

  4. Thank you!
    Wouter van der Veen

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