Article by Uddipana Chowdhury, The North-Eastern Chronicle
Visuals by: Anupal Deuri Bharali
Van Gogh, the artistic genius of Dutch Post-Impressionism, was a man who transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty.
But do we actually know Vincent?
While admiring his works people often talk about how the artist cut off his own ear out of insanity. It was the first of several serious breakdowns that plagued him until his tragic suicide a year and a half later.
Vincent arrived in Arles at the beginning of 1888. He made so many paintings in and around the town, inspired by the southern French landscape. He often dreamed of an artists’ community in his Yellow House. And it was when Paul Gauguin arrived in October when the painter thought his dream would finally be fulfilled. It is hard to believe how their relationship soon deteriorated.
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Vincent, who believed it was important to work from reality, it was hard for him to see a painting through Gauguin’s eyes who preferred to paint from his imagination. Just before Christmas, they had a furious row and Gogh cut off a part of his ear in a moment of insanity. Afterwards, he sent it to a sex worker called Rachel who Gaugin had been sleeping with. And it remained as one of the best-known stories in the history of art.
The horrible incident occurred in December 1888 in the southern French town of Arles and was published in a newspaper with witnesses including police and fellow artists.
Van Gogh also documented the injury in one of his pieces of art
“Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear”, 1889
A book was also published in Germany by Hamburg-based historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, that argues Vincent van Gogh may have made up the whole story to protect his friend Gauguin, a keen fencer, who actually lopped it off with a sword during a heated argument which was about Van Gogh being terribly upset over Gauguin’s decision to go back to Paris after the two men had spent an unhappy stay together at the “Yellow House” in Arles, which had been set up as a studio in the south. Vincent’s life in Arles didn’t get easier when his neighbours organized a petition against him. They were afraid of the painter and wanted him out of the Yellow House.
Vincent was devastated: ‘I have never done anyone harm at any rate, and I am not a danger to anyone’, he told Reverend Salles.
The Yellow House 1888
It was in December of 1881, at the age of 28 just as he began his first paintings Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, about becoming a painter, and between November of 1881 and July of 1890, Vincent van Gogh painted almost 900 paintings. And his most famous painting is reviewed as well as Starry Night Over the Rhone and The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night.
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Starry Night, June 1889
Vincent’s life was beautiful yet full of sorrow. During his lifetime Van Gogh was never famous as a painter and struggled to make a living as an artist. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime- The Red Vineyard. The painting was sold in Brussels for 400 Francs only a few months before his death. Six weeks after Vincent’s death, Theo organized a memorial exhibition of his brother’s work. With all the beautiful pieces of work, van Gogh truly exerted a powerful influence on the development of modern painting.
In the end, the only question that remains constant is why the value of an artist is understood only after their death?! Like Van Gogh.