”The sadness will last forever.”
On 29th July 1890, at the peak of summer, van Gogh had finally succumbed to the extreme sadness that had tortured him for the most of his life. Two days earlier van Gogh shot himself and the untreated wound infection proved to be his undoing.
Months prior to his death were, at the same time, the saddest and the most creative days of his life. A year prior to his death, van Gogh stayed at the asylum at Saint-Remy where he was constantly getting bored and this led to a frustration. Despite his numerous nervous breakdowns, his time there proved to be the most productive time of his entire life having painted the most of his paintings two years before his death. Shortly before leaving Saint Remy, van Gogh expressed how depressed he felt “The surroundings here are beginning to weigh me down more than I can say… I need some air, I feel overwhelmed by boredom and grief.”
After returning to Auvers, his health was still fragile, however, by 25th May 1890. he had recovered, writing to his brother Theo “I can do nothing about my illness. I am suffering a little just now — the thing is that after that long seclusion the days seem like weeks to me.” His creativity flourished again and, quickly reaching out for brushes and canvases, he painted numerous landscapes, exploring the ‘wheat’ theme he considered to be interesting. His improvement continued throughout June, the nightmares vanished and he seemed to be less depressive, looking brightly at the future, actually. His desires to paint were tremendous and his creativity, flair and ideas thrived. In a letter he informed his brother about his painting ideas “I would like to paint some portraits against a very vivid yet tranquil background. There are the greens of a different quality, but of the same value, so as to form a whole of green tones, which by its vibration will make you think of the gentle rustle of the ears swaying in the breeze: it is not at all easy as a colour scheme.”
1890. Wheatfield at Auvers under Clouded Sky, painted in July
“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”
1890. Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds, painted in July
Painting Wheatfield with Crows is one of van Gogh’s last works (possibly the very last painting). The sky appears so vivid and yet so tranquil, lonely and sad at the same time; that’s something in common with all of van Gogh’s paintings, no matter what colour he uses, whether it’s a vivid or dark shade, he manages to paint in a way that everything takes a sad tone. This painting is a dramatic landscape out of which emerges almost horrifying despair, sadness and alienation. He writes to his brother ‘I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.’ However, he added ‘I’m fairly sure that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside.’
Van Gogh felt that he succeeded in expressing his extreme loneliness (de la solitude extrême). Concerning the painting, he also expressed that he feels like a bird in a cage, perhaps trapped in the agony of his own mind. Since he incorporated the crows in his painting they create an all together symbol of the constraint he felt; he felt constrained by his surrounding and powerless regarding his art; he created with such flair and lived with even greater passion, yet nobody ever understood him or his paintings. Crows are a symbol of death and rebirth, or of resurrection, but on this painting they express both his enormous sorrow and sense of his life coming to an end. He wrote to Theo on 2th July 1890. “I myself am also trying to do as well as I can, but I will not conceal from you that I hardly dare count on always being in good health. And if my disease returns, you would forgive me. I still love art and life very much…” Later, on 10th July he writes in despairing tone ”And the prospect grows darker, I see no happy future at all.”
1890. Undergrowth with Two Figures, painted in June
“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
“It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning.”
1890. Wheat Field after the Rain, painted in July
Vincent van Gogh was a man of passion greater than life, so devoted to his art until the very end; end of the life burdened with sorrows, illnesses, loneliness and a lack of understanding; life of extremes… His quote ‘I’d rather die of passion than of boredom’ is his best testimony. His art was the purpose of his life, and the cause of his eventual collapse. Today Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists and his work influenced the 20th century Modernists, but, at the time of his death his work was known to only a handful of people. Van Gogh wanted to be remembered as a ‘man who feels deeply, that man who feels keenly’ and he expressed his feelings; his bleeding agony and struggles in his art. His paintings are now appreciated for their rough beauty, bold colours and their brutally honest emotional facet.
Vincent van Gogh died on the 29th July 1890, in the summertime, aged just thirty seven. As he was lying on his death bed, this man, at the peak of his creativity, at the peak of his artistic life and already facing the end of it; end of the life already rife with sad events, whispered his last words to Theo, his brother and a faithful companion to the end, ‘La Tristesse Durera’ meaning ‘The sadness will last forever.’ At the peak of summer Van Gogh had finally succumbed to the sadness.