Loving Vincent

Sitting in the cinema hall, with the lights turned off, I have been thrown into the life Vincent Van Gogh lived in Hague, Paris, Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise more than a century ago. The mind is struggling to follow the plotline; it is lured into every scene that makes the heart tremble. The thoughts are wandering from Starry Night over The Rhone to Café Terrace in Arles on a September night in 1888, and from The Yellow House where Van Gogh shared rooms with his painter friend Paul Gaugin to Wheatfield with Crows, which is believed to have been painted shortly before his tragic death. A story about Vincent is taking shape, slowly, in my mind, and in my heart.

Starry Night

                           (Source: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York)

The film opens with that familiar image, the Starry Night. The dark-blue sky taking over the whole stage, the stars shining vividly, the crescent moon in bright yellow looking down to the village, the cypress tree reaching the sky, the swirling purple clouds pushing forward with a tremendous force, the intensity the scene creates is almost unbearable. It is such a great sense of power and vividness, which gradually, and inevitably, turns into melancholy and loneliness.

Standing next to the window in a mental asylum room at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889. At that time, he was recovering from a mental breakdown and self-mutilation. The swirling clouds, like waves of thoughts running through his head, instead of settling down, they turn into thunderstorms.

 

Café Terrace in Arles

                             (Source: https://www.vincentvangogh.org)

In a letter to his sister, Van Gogh expressed his desire for the night colour, “The night is richer in colour than day.” The intimate atmosphere on a late summer night in the south of France was re-created in Café Terrace at Night, a painting from 1888. It was the first time he experimented with a nocturnal background.

On a mid-September night in Arles, the smell of local red wine and pastries have warmed up the chilly air. On a street corner not far from Café Terrace, Van Gogh is absorbed in his thoughts. The paintbrushes are moving in different directions. Those movements, so random, yet so determined.

Van Gogh overhears fragments of a conversation and occasional laughs; it seems the customers, mainly ladies from upper-middle class judged by their outfits, are in a cheerful mood. The waitress in her early twenties, carrying a serving tray, stops at one of the small round tables. She takes the order from the young ladies, and answers some casual questions. For a moment, Van Gogh senses a smile on her face. A gentleman in a dark-green suit and a lady in a citron green dress walk in opposite directions. They give one another a quick glance, a faint smile is exchanged.

A light breeze touches the leaves gently. The air feels so warm, and the sound of the rustling leaves so soft. It comforts him. The paintbrushes are moving a little faster now, yellow, dark blue, purple, green, and orange. The unification of contrasting colours, and the charming scene the colours have brought to life comforts him, immensely.

 

Starry Night over the Rhone

                                 (Source: https://www.vincentvangogh.org)

On another September night in 1888, after having his plain evening meal which consists of dried bread and potato soup, Van Gogh carries a worn-out cotton bag of oil colours, paintbrushes, and a paint palette. He walks slowly towards the banks of the river Rhone. It takes only a few minutes’ walk from the The Yellow House, which he rented for 15 Franc a month. It was supposed to be used as a studio where artists could share their works, their ideas and love of art.

He reaches the riverbank, the scene before him is overwhelming. He stares at the twinkling stars, the gas lighting, and the glittering reflections in the river. For a moment, he looks puzzled. Are the reflections on the water of the gas lighting or the shinning stars? He wonders.

He finds a spot, and sets up the easel. He mixes the paints on the palette, dark-blue, light-purple and glittering yellow.

The blurred reflections are shining through the surface of the river; it brightens the dark-blue water and turns it into light-purple. Van Gogh works purposefully, with an extraordinary serenity on his face.

The stars have lighted up the sky, and a couple come to sight. With her arm crossed his, she leans her head slightly towards him and whispers a few words. A quiet moonlit stroll. Van Gogh pauses for a moment, his mind no longer in the present; it wanders back to those old days in Etten. He was deeply in love with his cousin Kee. His feelings for her, however, were not reciprocated. She left him and never saw him again.

 

Wheatfield with Crows

                                     (Source: http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

Standing at the edge of the wheat field, Van Gogh looks fragile and tired. The wind is roaring fiercely, his right hand holds the easel firmly to balance his weight. The easel was set up half an hour ago, but the terrible wind makes painting an arduous task.

The wheat field oscillates heavily, and the crushing sound echoes in his ears. Van Gogh lifts his head and faces the huge darkening sky. Those crows, are they flying towards me or the distant hills? His vision is blurred. His heart sinks.

The wind has dropped a little, Van Gogh sets up the canvas and tests the colours. With his eyes fixed on the canvas, he paints with extreme intensity. Vigorous dark-red brushstrokes mixed with deep-yellow ones, three winding paths come to sight. They seem to lead nowhere.

Painted in July 1890, Wheatfield with Crows is among Van Gogh’s final works. Does the image of the wheat field leaning in the fierce wind and the dead-end paths convey a message? Do those crows carry a “death note”?

 

The life of Vincent Van Gogh

                                           (Source: http://nasjonalmuseet.no)

I have been haunted by Van Gogh’s spirit since I watched the film Loving Vincent in September last year. I have been studying literary and artistic materials, reading articles, reviews, and hundreds of letters Van Gogh sent to his younger brother Theo from June 1873 to July 1890. My heart has been touched over and over again.

Vincent Van Gogh failed in every aspect of his personal life. He was unable to maintain friendships. He was dismissed both as an art dealer and a preacher. His idea of creating an artistic community for painters in the south of France did not last long. It remained a dream. He was dependent on his father, and later his younger brother Theo, for financial support throughout his life. Among more than 2000 artworks, Van Gogh only succeeded in selling one painting (The Red Vineyard) during his lifetime.

Van Gogh was an outsider, a misunderstood man. His extraordinary talent for painting and drawing was overshadowed by his nonconformity and mental illness. For many of his contemporaries, he was a failure. Only through art did he feel liberated to express his thoughts and emotions, and share his fierce passion for the beauty of nature and humanity.

Theo was Van Gogh’s (only) trusted friend and lifelong support, both financially and emotionally. It was touching to witness the close bond and the brotherly love between Van Gogh and Theo through their letters.

(Vincent in 1872 at the age of eighteen. Source: www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

 

(Theo in 1878 at the age of twenty-one. Source: www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

Before the year is gone, I feel I have to thank you again for all your help and friendship. I haven’t sent you anything for a long time, but I’m saving for the time when you will come here. I am sorry that I haven’t succeeded this year in making a saleable drawing. I really do not know where the fault lies…” (An extract from a letter sent from Van Gogh to Theo. The Hague, December 1882)

“…I have in fact no other friend but you, and when I am in low sprites, I always think of you. I only wish you were here, that we might consult once more together about moving to the country.” (An extract from a letter sent from Van Gogh to Theo. The Hague, Sunday night in 1883)

On 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in a wheat field in Auvers-sur-Oise. He died in his bed two days later. Theo was by his side.

After Van Gogh’s death, Theo wrote a letter to his mother:

“One cannot write how grieved one is nor find any comfort. It is a grief that will last and which I certainly shall never forget as long as I live; the only thing one might say is, that he himself has the rest he was longing for… life was such a burden to him; but now, as often happens, everybody is full of praise of his talents … Oh! Mother he was so my own, own brother.”

Theo’s fragile health deteriorated further after his brother’s death, and he died six months later, on 25 January 1891. They were buried side by side in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

                                      (Source: http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl)

 

Some afterthoughts:

I did not know much about Vincent Van Gogh’s life when I first came across the film, Loving Vincent, neither was I familiar with his paintings, which are acknowledged as some of the most profound artworks in modern times.

Loving Vincent is an experimental animated biographical drama film co-directed by Dorota Kobiela, a polish filmmaker and former painter, and Hugh Welchman, a British award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter.

When Kobiela first came up with the idea of painting a short animation about Vincent Van Gogh’s life in 2008, Welchman immediately fell in love with the project. His vision for making Loving Vincent as an animated film, however, was considered “completely insane”. It was merely seen as a dream.

Over 100 artists from different parts of the world worked together to make the dream a reality. All 65,000 frames in the animation were hand-painted in oils, using the same technique adopted by Van Gogh. It was the tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest and most beloved artists, whose artistic talent was not appreciated until after his death.

The animated film, Loving Vincent

                                      (Source: http://lovingvincent.com)

 

If you want to gain a deep insight into Van Gogh’s beautiful and remarkable works, as well as his tragic but eventful life, please follow the link to Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: www.vangoghmuseum.nl.

If you want to deepen your understanding of Van Gogh, both as an artist, and as an individual and brother, please read the collection of Van Gogh’s letters to Theo. You will be surprised by his mastery of words, and touched by his kindness, compassion and love.

If you are interested in the animated film Loving Vincent, please follow the link: http://lovingvincent.com.

References:

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – www.vangoghmuseum.nl

Irving Stone, 1937, Dear Theo An Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh, From His Letters, Printed in London Constable & Company LTD

 

Author: Isabelle

Literature & language enthusiast 🇬🇧🇳🇴🇨🇳 Dedicated runner & passionate traveller 🏃‍♀️🏝 I am Isabelle and I live with my family in Oslo, Norway. I have three children, a girl and two boys. My educational background: Master’s degree in English Language Bachelor’s degree in European and American studies (language, literature and area studies) Bachelor’s degree in International Marketing Key words: Creative writing& Professional writing& Text analysis& Content editing& Linguistics& English teaching

58 thoughts on “Loving Vincent”

  1. Thank you for this, Isabelle!

    I can’t say I am familiar with all his work, but I love what little I have seen. Cafe Terrace is a favourite — in fact, I had a copy on my wall when I was a student. I had no idea there was a collection of his letters, and this is definitely something worth reading. And thank you again for reminding me of Loving Vincent — I need to watch it.

    Love, B.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful words, Basilike!

      Cafe Terrace is also my favourite, unlike the vivid and powerful Starry Night and The Wheatfield with Crows, Cafe Terrace and Starry Night Over The Rhône are peaceful and atmospheric. I’m deeply touched by Van Gogh’s letters, I feel the pain and sufferings, and his great passion for art, nature and humanity.

      With love, Isabelle

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The list of things to read grows endlessly! I can understand why you would be touched by them. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse into an artist’s life and thoughts, and helps understand their work better. In the case of Van Gogh, who lived a lonely, misunderstood life, this is even more true.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The same here, Basilike. Piles of books lying on the floor. I pick up a book whenever I’ve got a chance. With work, family commitments and children, not much time left. But I know, those books will always be there, no hurry, they’re my treasure.
        Reading Van Gogh’s letters helps me interpret his artworks. It’s so insightful, both his paintings and his words.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You’re so right Basilike. Sadly, Van Gogh wasn’t the only talented artist who went unnoticed. Similar cases can also be found in the literature and music sphere. The works of the great American novelist Herman Melville were almost forgotten during the last 30 years of his life. Not sure if you’ve read his short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener. It was on the reading list when I did the course American Literature. A sad and powerful one.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I just saw this!

        You are right, many people in arts in general are not recognized at their time. The funny thing is that, when they finally are, they are considered among the most original and groundbreaking. In many cases, critics must be a jealous bunch. As for the audience, they just want to see/read/listen to what they are used to.

        Bartleby is an amazing story. Sad and powerful as you say. I too read it for a literature course!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thank you for this insightful comment, Basilike. You makes me think and reflect. Being considered original and groundbreaking after their passed-aways. How ironic and sad it is. Similar things happen in today’s societies, I came across a case in which a young Chinese film director was struggling to make an original film, both the idea, manuscript and the film itself were ignored and abandoned by the film industry. The film suddenly gained national recognition and won a lot of prizes, yes, after his death. He committed suicide at the age of 29. Another random comment, just some reflections, no need to reply. With love.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Some of my favourite poets share this fate. I don’t know but, if there is indeed an afterlife, I wonder if they are feeling satisfied their work is finally acknowledged or really angry and frustrated!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I genuinely hope that they’re feeling satisfied when they know their works are acknowledged and appreciated by generations and generations to come. I genuinely hope that they feel delighted and proud that their works have inspired a wide audience, both in national and international contexts. And I have a feeling that they are and they do. I think great and talented artists have a visionary mind and a big heart. I hope and believe so.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Hi Basilike, I searched for the contact details (email address) on your site but I didn’t find any so I’m sending you a message via my blog’s comment section.
        I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received from you during the rather short period of time that I’ve been blogging, and thank you, wholeheartedly, for taking time to read and give me thoughtful and constructive comments. You’re one of my highly respected writers, and it has always been a delight to have a chat with you. However, I also recognise that misunderstandings might occur during communication. I’m not the one who spends lots of time editing my thoughts before putting them on paper, I prefer to express what I have at heart. If any of my writings has offended you, I apologise profusely. It was never my intention to do so. Friends go apart, so do bloggers. I understand that.
        All the best, love.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Hey Isabelle! Nothing you ever wrote offended me. You are always among my favorites and I appreciate your reading and commenting on my work more than I can express. There is no need to apologize about anything.

        Could it be that you sent me a comment I didn’t see? Sorry about that, I had no idea.

        Please be sure everything is fine between us. Love, B.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. It’s so good to hear that all is fine, dear Basilike. I’ve been thinking of this for a while now, and it was important for me to send you the message. We’ve booked the summer holiday and will be spending two weeks in beautiful Thassos. The third time in a row that we’re having summer holiday in Greece, after Crete and Santorini. Another opportunity to learn the Greek culture, history and people. I look very much forward to it. I have a very good friend who’s half Greek and half Norwegian, she told me about the Greek traditions. This is a ramble comment, no need to reply. I’m just very happy to know that all is fine. With love.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. I understand completely, Isabelle. I often worry too that I may have written something that could read as offensive. Unfortunately, in this kind of communication, many things are lost and it’s easier to be misunderstood.

        As for you, from what I can deduce from our communication so far and the quality of your posts, you are not the kind of person who would intentionally offend someone.

        I’m glad to hear you are coming back to Greece. I’ve never been to Thassos, you know!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so beautiful. The Bedroom is one of my favourites. I thought about writing a passage of the painting. Perhaps next time. It gave me a good feeling, the image of Van Gogh’s bedroom. A sense of harmony and peace. All those details. Good to hear you had it in your dorm room in college. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Sue. Van Gogh’s artistic talent, the love between him and Theo, and his sufferings touched my heart deeply. It’s sad to be reminded that life could be so harsh. So harsh for such a great artist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad to read this essay. I’m a big fan of Van Gogh too. I’ve read all of his letters. I’ve seen quite a few exhibits of his work. And I saw Loving Vincent, which is so creative and moving. It’s pretty amazing that he has become one of the most famous artists ever, considering that he had so little commercial success during his life. A main catalyst for his posthumous success was Theo’s widow. She took various actions over the years that brought Vincent’s art into the public eye.

    Bye till next time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His letters are so touching, so is Loving Vincent. When the melody of Loving Vincent by Don McLean filled the whole cinema hall at the end of the film, the tears were just running down my face. I heard people weeping. It was heartbreaking to be reminded of his sufferings, the harshness of his short life.
      You’re so right, the effort of Theo’s widow, Johanna should not be forgotten. So much love was expressed through her various approaches and actions. Her love for the brothers. Catch up soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed this, Isabelle. In the first part of the post, I felt as if I was walking through a living exhibition, in which the still paintings breathed and moved. You have piqued my interest in his life. I missed out on watching Loving Vincent when it was screened here last year. After reading this, and other raved reviews about it, I must somehow see it. Trouble is, nothing will beat watching it on the big screen. And those letters… boy, don’t they wrench the heart. You have well and truly captured the essence of one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Vera, for sharing your thoughts with me. I watched the film Loving Vincent with my daughter, it was our first real encounter with Van Gogh’s artworks and life. I was deeply touched by his works, as much as his sufferings. The images of his paintings have been following me for months. I bought Loving Vincent DVD in London before Christmas, and you’re right, seeing it at home wasn’t the same as watching it on a big screen. Catch up soon. Love, Isabelle

      Liked by 1 person

  4. AHHHH!!! I didn’t realize You’d posted! ‘m running to work right now, but will read tonight! Can’t wait. You know he is my one of my very favorites! His art zings right to my soul. How exciting. Congrats, Isabelle and CHeers!!! Soooo looking forward to this! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey! Thank You, Isabelle! We are getting off very easy weather-wise here. Not cold today at all really. Chilly at best. And I had a nice Saturday, work was busy as busy could be but very pleasurable. WOW! Just read this. It’s truly lovely. I can feel Your love/passion for him. So very beautiful. It absolutely astounds me…him…his life. So bizarre. When I was in my early 20s I was visiting New York and spent the day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is SOOOOOO much there….it’s overwhelming. I walked and walked, in heaven with all the beauty of the paintings by the great masters….and all sorts of painters…but when I museum I only stop at a piece if it captures me….and that’s what Vincent did. It was one of his self portraits. I was in a wonderful relaxed mood and walking slowly. He actually stopped me in my tracks. I gasped outloud and started crying. He literally dove right into my heart. I stood there looking at that picture, crying, for quite a while. They had a few other of his paintings (I can’t remember how many, not much) and I eventually moved on and spent time with those. But man. Off the charts. It’s as if he paints raw emotion to me and fits it inside whatever he’s looking at. Thank You for wonderful, wonderful post. I hope You are keeping warm and that You and Your beautiful family are well!!! Thank You so much for Your email. I will be writing You back soon! Sending HUGE hugs and lots of Love!!! 😊💖☀️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Katy, wholeheartedly, for taking time to send me such a lovely and thoughtful comment ❤️ I’ll write a more comprehensive comment soon. Hope you’ll have a good Sunday full of artistic joy! 💫🧚‍♀️🌾

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It was so good to hear that your Saturday was pleasant and the weather wasn’t too cold, Katy 😊 The sun was out today and temperature rising to about 2-3 degrees in Oslo. Had a walk alone the coast, lovely! I know how it feels, the immediate reaction when you encountered Van Gogh’s self portrait. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago when I paid a visit to the National Museum in Norway. I was wandering in the ocean of artworks when Van Gogh’s self portrait caught my attention. Of course I recognised his self portrait immediately, the heart started to tremble. I walked slowly towards the painting, as close as I could, and looked at it for a long time. It was such an overwhelming sadness in his eyes, he looked so fragile and tired. I was very touched, so came the tears. I took a few pictures of the painting (one of them was attached to this post). Van Gogh once said in a letter to his brother Theo that “I have a certain faith in art, a certain confidence that it is a powerful stream, which drifts a man to harbour.” He succeeded in bringing this powerful stream into his artworks, which speak to previous generations and generations to come. Take care Katy. No hurry to reply the email. It’s fine. Take time. Best wishes and warmest hugs 🌸❤️🌸

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hey Isabelle! 2-3 degrees. Wow. That will never cease to amaze me! You live in such a mindblowingly beautiful winter wonderland…so very foreign to me. The pictures You’ve posted before are stunning. I bet Your walk WAS sooooo lovely! Love that You have had the same reaction. The self portrait I saw was different than the one You saw….he had a hat on in mine….a straw hat. Just now tried to google and find it. Learned he did 30 self portraits!!! And I have to get ready for work….so….ah well. I didn’t know who that was Van Gogh when I saw it. But ah….learned very swiftly to recognize him and his beautiful work. What a wonderful quote. So true! He did nail it…didn’t he? Thanks again for all this, Isabelle! Sending You huge, warm hugs, much love and great big smiles!!! 💖🤗☀️❤️

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Bernice, for leaving me your thoughtful comment! Van Gogh’s “poppies” art, like Vase with Red Poppies, is so beautiful. Hope you’ll post some of your artworks in the future.
      😊🌸

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I did enjoy reading this post. I could feel your emotion and thoughts on VG’s work and his life.
    VG’s relationship with Theo makes me think about what relationship means to us and why we as a human-being desire it. When we have, in our lives, just a handful of people, or maybe just one person who truly understands, empathizes and supports you no matter what, we’re happy that we can go on. What if VG had a choice between Theo and fame as an artist, I wonder what choice VG would’ve made. Probably he would’ve chosen Theo. Because that’s what our hearts long for. Because that’s how we are made of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ethan, for sharing you thoughts with me. Through the letters Van Gogh sent to Theo, I have an impression that Van Gogh considered Theo to be the only person who truly understood him, both in terms of his artistic approaches and his personal preferences. Even if the relationship between them was solid, they appeared to have arguments. The letters imply, or as what I interpret the content, fame wasn’t Van Gogh primary goal, he mentioned that he only wished to earn a certain amount of money so that he could be financially independent and pay back the debt to Theo. He felt that he was heavily indebted to Theo, although Theo, as far as I know, had never made such implications. Van Gogh’s paintings are some of the most beautiful and admirable artworks, but it was the brotherly love between him and Theo that made the greatest impression, and touched my heart.

      Like

    1. Lacking of web designing skills, I’ve waited far too long to get a more appealing front page. This one is just a simple version, not as dull and plain as the previous one anyway. I’m making progress yeah! Thank you Katy! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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