Three things I learned about Vincent Van Gogh from reading Van Gogh by Pierre Cabanne, © 1961:
- When Van Gogh took up painting, late in life, he began by taking lessons, visiting museums to study the works of the masters, and inviting established artists to critique his work. In the popular imagination he simply sat down at his canvas and let the genius flow forth– and there was an element of that– but he had carefully laid the foundation.
- He didn’t cut off his whole ear, just the tip of his earlobe. That’s still disturbing and indicative of a troubled mind, but far less ghastly than if he had lopped off the whole thing.
- While it is true he sold only a single painting while alive, his career had a major breakthrough shortly before his suicide. A respected art critic had published a glowing review of his work, and he was being contacted by other successful painters who were intrigued by his work and wanted to meet him and exchange paintings. He had several public exhibitions which were widely attended and brought positive attention. He had every objective reason to be optimistic.
Excerpted from Van Gogh by Pierre Cabanne, © 1961:
Vincent painted the wheat field three times during June; on other occasions he set up his easel in front of the cypresses. “It is a splash of black in a sunny landscape, but is one of the most interesting black notes, and the most difficult to hit off exactly, that I can imagine.” The cypress was for him the symbol of the countryside in Provence, he saw it as “the equivalent– and the antithesis– of the sunflower.”
The dagger of a cypress tree jutting into the sky is a common and recognizable feature in his work. I had wondered what it represented to him.
“No woman is old as long as she loves and is loved.” ~Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, quoted in Van Gogh by Pierre Cabanne, © 1961
which is very similar to
“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.” ~The Wizard of Oz
but I’m not really a fan of either, because it removes control from the individual. “Loving” is an action we can choose, “being loved” is out of our hands.
A Lane near Arles ~ Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh saw blue everywhere; in the soil, in the grass, in the leaves and trunks of trees. Blue is as integral to his style as his trademark swirls and bold strokes.
Vincent van Gogh, Road with Cypresses, 1890
He actually painted quite a few cypress trees and night skies, didn’t he?