Monday, December 28, 2009

Letters from Vincent

Dear Friends and Readers,

I've started a new art feature on the blog. Letters from Vincent will post whenever I have time and inspiration to create a post and whenever the whim strikes me!

I recall vividly the first time I noticed a Van Gogh painting. When I was a fourth grader, I had an evil art teacher. She was so enraged by the bad behavior of my class that she meted out a punishment: for an entire month we would have to create a scrapbook and fill it with images of things we considered to be beautiful and write an explanation as to why we thought it was beautiful. These images could be photographs, original drawings or magazine cut-outs. I don't recall anything else I included in my scrapbook except for an image I clipped from  Life magazine of one of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings. If I'm not mistaken,it was the cover of a book in a Book of the Month ad.

Ironically, it was this assignment meant as punishment that started a life-long passion for art and artists. Van Gogh was especially endearing to me because, as a sensitive and lonely kid, the story of his life, which I learned mostly by looking at art books and reading from his letters to his brother Theo, touched me very deeply.

As I've delved further into my art interests, I'd lost touch with this artist. Perhaps because he is now so well known; his work duplicated ubiquotously. Or maybe like so many things from our childhoods that are given up as they are replaced with things more mature. These posts are my tribute to Vincent:  tucked away but never forgotten.

In the Letters from Vincent posts, I'll take an excerpt from a letter at random and illustrate it with an image or two; the latter of which should put the event, thought or idea conveyed into some coherent context and timeline. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to mention them. And comments are most welcome, if you have knowledge, thoughts, reactions to share. 

Pagan Sphinx

To brother Theo; an excerpt from a letter written in Arles,
c. 9th. July 1888
read entire letter here

I am thinking a lot about Gauguin, and I would have plenty of ideas for pictures, and about work in general.I have a charwoman now for 1 franc, who sweeps and scrubs the house for me twice a week. I am banking very much on her, counting on her to make our beds if we decide to sleep in the house.


Van Gogh started the first version mid October 1888 while staying in Arles, and explained his aims and means to his brother Theo:

This time it simply reproduces my bedroom; but colour must be abundant in this part, its simplification adding a rank of grandee to the style applied to the objects, getting to suggest a certain rest or dream. Well, I have thought that on watching the composition we stop thinking and imagining. I have painted the walls pale violet. The ground with checked material. The wooden bed and the chairs, yellow like fresh butter; the sheet and the pillows, lemon light green. The bedspread, scarlet coloured. The window, green. The washbasin, orangey; the tank, blue. The doors, lilac. And, that is all. There is not anything else in this room with closed shutters. The square pieces of furniture must express unswerving rest; also the portraits on the wall, the mirror, the bottle, and some costumes. The white colour has not been applied to the picture, so its frame will be white, aimed to get me even with the compulsory rest recommended for me. I have depicted no type of shade or shadow; I have only applied simple plain colours, like those in crêpes.

Van Gogh's bedroom at Arles

Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, known as his Yellow House. The door to the right was the opening to the upper floor and the staircase, the door to the left served as the guest room he held prepared for Gauguin


  1. I like the color scheme he mentions in the letter for the room, but the colored drawing doesn't reflect that.

  2. I love this new idea of yours. Van Gogh is so inspiring. Looking forward to future posts.

  3. Singing Bear: I'm glad you like my idea and are willing to say so! Your support and friendship mean a lot to me.

    Kenju: I see what you mean to some extent. Not everything in the finished painting is the exact colors he describes in the letter. I suppose that could be for many reasons. What exactly those reasons are, is unknown to me. Glad you came by!

  4. This is a wonderful idea. Last year at Christmas my true love gave me a book of the complete paintings of Vincent. ALL of them!!! And I've been hoarding it - looking at it from time to time, like my Nolde book. Gasping at the colors or the textures or both. They were amazing colorists. And Vincent's letters are heartbreakingly open and frank. Lessons for artists.

    This painting is such a unique and original item. I'm not sure there had ever been anything like it before he painted it. And the way he applied paint!

  5. I like your idea too. I like Van Gogh very much, so will enjoy this series, I'm sure.

  6. An extra injection of further interest, mmm most enjoyable.

  7. You guys rock me solid! :-D More than enough inspiration here for several Vincent posts! :-)

    All the love to you imac, Steve (looking so wizardly), Bobbie, Singing Bear, Lady Kenju, and magiceye (!!!) The new year is almost upon us...

  8. This is Too Cool for School!

    I remember seeing Starry Night and its sister painting with you at MOMA, and bawling like a baby. That moment changed me forever, and my conception of what "art" means.

    Every time I come by here, you bring me back to that place.

    Thank you.

  9. CR: I recall that experience at MoMA. Sadly, when I last visited Starry Night and its companion were on loan to somewhere else. The time we and the girls saw it remains the only time I've seen Starry Night.

    I'm so glad that moment has stayed with you.

    I love the photograph, though it did cause me to feel a slight melencholy...

  10. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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