Tuesday, January 26, 2010

letters from Vincent

gallery talk about Vincent VanGogh's letters

self portrait by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

I enjoyed a lecture on a Friday afternoon, but the take home message was even better! The lecture was on Vincent VanGogh's letters. They were missing 10 of the 12 VanGogh paintings the author intended to reference in Vincents letters but things happen and as it turns out those ten paintings were moved to storage to make way for renovations. Still two paintings for an hours talk were enough to keep us interested.
What I learned was that Vincent was a intelligent sensitive guy, he spoke and wrote 3 languages fluently: Dutch, French and English. He was dependent on several substances, like many modern artists, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and at one point lived for 14 days with only his coffee and cigarettes. He was a work- a- holic when it came to painting and drawing. He often completed paintings in a single day and one year painted 230 canvases. He only sold one of his paintings while he was alive which is what is so tragic I believe he is the most famous and popular painter in our time. Many people have studied his work and his letters to help us all understand him and his life better.

The reason the historian at NGA decided to do this talk about his letters, was to celebrate the completion by historians at the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam of a six volume collection of all his known letters which has taken since 1994 to complete. They collected all his known letters, scanned them, translated them and notated them. These historians sought out and researched all the art works and literature and people mentioned in Vincent's letters and combined all to create the definitive collection of the letters which take up six volumes. There completed work is now on the Internet for us to explore and study. I spent most of this past Sunday afternoon reading just a few letters online. Fascinating letters about the relations between Vincent and his younger brother Theo who was an art dealer in Paris and who supported him to become the great painter. According the the lecture Friday,Vincent wasn't crazy but he did have seizures and that is why he checked himself into a sanitarium where he painted the self portrait with dark blue back ground we see in the NGA's collection. Vincent wrote he is drawn and pale (green) because he wasn't taking care of himself instead focusing on painting. He also painted a second self portrait as he was recovering both to show his brother how much good going to the doctor's care did him and that he was fit to keep working at his passion of drawing and painting with Theo's support.
What I enjoy most about the website is that I can see a copy of the original long hand letters as I read an English translation and I can click on links that show me all of the paintings or drawings he is writing about if they still exist. Also I can find out who he is writing about in the notes that accompany the translation's texts. It is a brilliant experience using this Internet archive, way beyond any normal book. I think in some way better than a printed version could be but I would still like to have a look at some of the six volumes they did print.

1 comment:

keith said...

Oh to be as prolific and talented, minus the bad habits of course.