|Savannah Schroll Guz, "The Stars Shone Above Them" (2012)|
watercolor, ink, paper
Speaking of that particular conundrum and the ability to sympathize with another person's serious difficulty, I'm reading Martin Gayford's The Yellow House, which describes the period of time, very close to the end of Van Gogh's life, in which he lived in a small rented house in Arles with Gauguin. It was dubbed the "Yellow House" because Van Gogh had it painted that color, both inside and out, before Gauguin arrived from Brittany. Gayford's work is highly descriptive and effectively communicates the frustrations of Van Gogh's life. He was absolutely unable, despite his brother Theo's best efforts as an art dealer, to get anyone to buy his work. Theo could move Gauguin's, but not Van Gogh's, which made Van Gogh increasingly anxious and prone to self-berating. Even Cezanne, who by that time had achieved significant notoriety, looked at Van Gogh's work and declared them to have been painted by a mad man. I can just imagine how absolutely disspiriting that kind of persistent rejection would have been. Combine that with his teasing by the local children and his failure to be included in shows other than the ones he organized himself in taverns, and it seems little wonder that his mental state deteriorated to such an extent. It was not more than a year later that he cut his ear after an argument with Gauguin and gave it to a favorite prostitute named Rachel for safe keeping (not as a gift as popular legend relates). The year after that, even with a visit to the Saint Remy asylum and a move to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Gachet, he fatally shot himself in the chest. And although he was able to walk home, he suffered for 29 hours before he died. Ironically, he had been praised that year in the Mercure de France for being "a genius", but I suspect the praise came too late. He had already been hallucinating for some time and had several relapses that February.
|Vincent Van Gogh, "Starry Night Over the Rhone", 1888|
He's buried in Auvers, although this was not his original burial spot--he was disinterred and relocated when someone else bought Dr. Gachet's house (which, according to legend, involved hacking away the roots of tree that firmly gripped his coffin...another interesting tale involving an almost supernatural relationship to the chemical thujone, the principal intoxicant of absinthe and carried by the tree that gripped his coffin...but that's another story for antoher time). Somewhere I have a picture of his grave and that of his brother Theo's: they are buried side by side and covered in ivy. I went there with a friend when I visited Paris on a day when, sadly, the Absinthe Museum was closed.
Now, back to book reviews. Check.