“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
I love that quote so I decided to do a little research on it this afternoon. Apparently, it appeared in a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, on September 18, 1888. In the letter, Vincent expressed heartfelt thanks to his sibling for his kindness and financial support. Theo was a Dutch art dealer and starting in about 1880, his unfailing financial and emotional support allowed his Vincent to devote himself entirely to painting.
Unfortunately, Vincent died in Theo’s arms just 10 years later. Most reports say he took his own life by gunshot, but I did read some articles that argue that he was shot by someone else. Either way, such a shame to read that he passed away at the young age of 37, and that most people had no knowledge of him until several years after his death. During the 10 years before he died, Vincent painted 800 canvases, only one of which sold while he was alive.
His “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for 82.5 million dollars 100 years later, in 1990:
I was fortunate to see some of his most famous paintings at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles before I moved here to Alabama. What a trip to stand inches away from his Irises!
That photo makes the painting look so flat, but in person the paint was so beautiful and thick. I remember being fascinated that I could see each of his brush strokes. He painted it in 1889, shortly after he had checked himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. He struggled with mental illness and several articles I read mentioned that he often “neglected his physical health, didn’t eat properly and drank heavily”.
On a happier note, I also read that “he loved companionship”, and never more so (at least for a while) than when he shared his ‘Yellow House’ in Arles with fellow artist, Paul Gauguin. (Paul, also an artist, agreed to live with Vincent when Theo promised to pay him to do so.)
(Vincent’s own depiction of his house in Arles, “The Yellow House”)
Vincent experienced a rare period of optimism while preparing for Paul’s arrival. He wrote to Theo in August of 1888, “I’m painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when it’s a question of painting large sunflowers. If I carry out this plan there’ll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will therefore be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it’s a matter of doing the whole thing in one go.”
Several of his famous ‘Sunflowers’ were painted to decorate the guest room walls in anticipation of Paul’s arrival. Gauguin was deeply impressed. I was too, just reading about it. 🙂
The sunflowers were painted for Paul with thoughts of the future in mind. They represent the start of something good, hope, and dreams coming to fruition.
He may have had a challenging existence, but those works and those words continue to be such encouraging reminders that we should “find things beautiful as much as you can…for most people find too little beautiful“.