Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another Look at van Gogh

The wonderful thing about art is that each person is free to find that which s/he admires. I've already outed myself as a huge fan of van Gogh.

While I enjoy the pretty landscapes and garden florals, the two paintings below are the ones that speak to me.

Van Gogh painted Starry Night over the Rhone in September 1888 while he was still living in Arles and before his downward spiral into madness and depression.

I've read religious interpretations of this painting. Most focus
on the presence of the eleven stars and point to Genesis 37:9:

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren,
and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to

Interestingly enough, I find van Gogh expressing a larger focus
on man than on God here. Notice how bright the lights of the city
are when compared to the stars in the painting and how the reflection of those lights dominates the water.

Another difference between this painting and the more famous The Starry Night is the presence of humans. Note the couple walking together at the forefront of the canvas.

To me, this painting speaks of connectedness both to man and to the greater universe.

By contrast, the painting Corridor in the Asylum was probably painted eight months later, in late May of 1889, during van Gogh's hospitalization in Saint Rémy de Provence.

The difference between the first painting and this one is astounding to me. Here, despite the bright colors, I feel the isolation and loneliness of Saint Rémy. Depression already had a firm grip on van Gogh; he would be dead in another fourteen months.

For one man to be able to express both ends of the continuum of emotion so capably evokes my admiration.

And it evoked admiration in his contempories. While van Gogh never knew popular success in his lifetime, he certainly was a respected member of the artistic community. The National Gallery of Art has this this say in its brochure:

More than a century after his death, Vincent van Gogh has become a legend. So many myths surround his name today that his major place in the development of modern art is often overshadowed. Despite his turbulent life, Van Gogh pursued throughout his career a clear artistic goal: to create images of great emotional intensity based on a careful study of the effects of color and composition.

Notwithstanding the clichés that endure in the popular imagination, Van Gogh was neither a mad genius, nor a starving, misunderstood artist. His art belonged to the avant-garde of his time, and as such was not accepted by the public at large; but Van Gogh had the support of an entire circle of friends, artists, and the end of his short career his paintings were exhibited in several major group shows in Paris and Brussels.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened had van Gogh lived another twenty or thirty years. His adaptability and interest in the work of other artists makes me believe he would have reinvented his style yet again.

Thanks to his many, many letters to family and friends, we know a lot about Vincent van Gogh. Even so, his paintings speak for themselves.

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