17 January, 2007

Vincent the Vile

van Gogh, 1889

If any of us, I think surely myself, were to meet in 1888 poor Vincent van Gogh on the street, I dare say we would cross to the other side to avoid the old boy!

He is described by many as odoriferous, ugly and offensive. I did not know, before, that his manner of speech and his quirky gestures were as odd as described in Martin Gayford's book, The Yellow House… (See a full review of the book in the Independent UK here.)

I did come upon a story in Yellow House that I personally remember reading in a newspaper way back in 1988. It concerns an Arlesienne lady, a centenarian, who was introduced to, and remembered quite vividly, the quirky Dutch painter who used to buy canvas at her husband-to-be's fabric shop. Her name was Jeanne Calment, and she considered van Gogh uncomely, ungracious, impolite, and bad smelling.

Too bad she never sat for a portrait, though. It wouldn't have hurt her posterity at all to have been able to pass on a few million francs to her family.

This story gets me. For the youth among my gentle readers, the year 1988 seems ancient history, I'm sure. But to those of us with a little gray on the noggin, it's just the same as yesterday. And here was someone with a personal memory of the great painter ! No wonder I feel that his art is as fresh today as it ever was.

Postmortem, his profile in the art world grew with time, as exhibits were hung in Paris, Brussels, Antwerp and The Hague. A large retrospective (I think I read @ 30 works) was mounted in Paris in 1901, and then again in 1905. Other shows followed, including New York, in 1913 and Berlin, in 1914.

Today, there is enough on van Gogh in the cyber world to almost make Elvis jealous (VVG: 4.6 million google entries; Elvis Presley: 4.7 million). His art has sold for an excess of 82 million dollars outside of the already out-of-this-world auction market for his art.

You may think that it's too bad that he never saw any of this money. On the other hand, he did see every work as it came off the easel. Who has the last laugh, there?


Philip said...

I understand it's quite possible (probable in fact) that Vincent suffered some kind of illness that accounted for his strange behaviour and moods. It was not recognised at the time and therefore went untreated.

Casey Klahn said...

Yes, poor Vincent was Manic Depressive(bi-polar disorder), according to Gayford. His book takes one day to day, and almost hour by hour, through the activities of the great artists at the "Studio of the South".
I am only reading a couple of chapters a day, and haven't gotten to the mad outbreak, yet. Consequently, I don't know the author's evidence for the bi-polar theory yet.
My dear old mum had a rousing case of manic-depression, so I have some qualification to bring forward on the subject. I'll let you know what I think, then.
It's also interesting that VVG is the archetype for all artists in the public estimation. Congratulations on that!

Anonymous said...

It is something that is uplifting to those today that suffer as he did.Although as Philip said it was untreated in that time.I do hope that Vincent looks down now and know's somehow that there are MANY he has helped. Painting has become the voice of many like that.I myself am Epileptic and have a small case of Bipolar.Although I don't usually bring up the Bipolar part as it can scare people off. Make's me feel bad though..because there are ways of treating it today.

Casey Klahn said...

So much for "art therapy", eh?
Seriously, though, I feel that everything VVG did that was a vice was a form of self medication. Tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and whore-mongering were all respites from his disquieted mind. And, yes, his art was a help.
I do not agree, however, that what appeared on his canvas was a result of mania. It was, IMO, a great art breakthrough that sprang from some reason, and some depth of inspiration, and from the trends in the avant garde of the time.

Casey Klahn said...

Dear me! My quip about "so much for art therapy" was directed at VVG, and published BEFORE our lovely Angela came along with her own (brave) story.
I have known of some very accomplished people with mental illness. And thanks for your entry, Angela.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Casey! You are very understanding of such things! Although I think that sometimes those who haven't gone through certain situations do not totally understand them. You my friend, come VERY VERY CLOSE! VERY close indeed! :) Thanks for that!

Philip said...

I saw a programme on TV a little while ago suggesting that he didn't in fact suffer with depression and his illness was physical rather than mental. For the life of me I can't remember the name of the illness though. I understand it is a rare condition and was not known at the time.

Everything is theory though and I am not sure we will ever discover the true state of his health and how it affected his art (or not as the case may be).

Casey Klahn said...

Good old Vincent is an example to us in more ways than one. The attempts by many to try to understand his art by different theories is just amusing to me.
They try to date a given work by the position of the stars. What nonsense that is! He freely moved elements about to suit his compositions.
I saw a horrible movie, once, that blurred the landscape as one views it riding on the train. It proposed this as VVG's inspiration.
I hate to say this, but it becomes obvious that someone will someday exhume the old geezer to look at the brain DNA, or what have you. Yick!

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism