Archive | 2:20 pm

Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin: Art Discussions in Arles I

21 Mar

“Those violent yellows, for example; they’re completely disordered.”
“Is that all you find to say about my sunflowers?”
“No, my dear fellow, I can find a good many things to criticize.”

Paul Gauguin, The Painter of Sunflowers – Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Vincent van Gogh arrived to Arles in spring of 1888, and in October the same year a fellow painter Paul Gauguin joined him in sunny Provence though not without a bit of hesitation and skepticism. While Vincent admired the older painter and wanted to learn from him, Gauguin arrogantly dismissed Vincent’s ideas about art and criticised his paintings with no shyness. It seems that the two painters were already too mature to take advice and their art styles too developed to change. Their approaches to painting and their life philosophies were very different; Gauguin thought Vincent was nothing but a romantic fool and he despised his thick visible brushstrokes. At the same time, Vincent loved to paint directly from nature and didn’t agree with Gauguin’s “painting from memory” technique. The painting above is Gauguin’s portrait of Vincent van Gogh as the painter of sunflowers. Vincent didn’t like the way his face was painted because he thought it made him look like a madman, and that’s coming from a man who had cut off his own ear a month later… It is perplexing how Gauguin wasn’t impressed with Vincent, why I cannot imagine what joy and privilege it must be to sit beside Vincent and gaze at him painting sunflower, gaze at the very birth of the painting, take in all the gorgeous shades of yellow. I would have loved that. In my previous post I mentioned that I was rereading Irving Stone’s wonderful romanticised biography of Vincent van Gogh called “Lust for Life” and in this post I wanted to share a dialogue between Vincent and Gauguin about art:

“What is the matter with the colours in my pictures?”
“My dear fellow, you’re still floundering in neo-impressionism. You’d better give up your present method. It doesn’t correspond to your nature.”
Vincent pushed his bowl of soup aside.
“You can tell that at first glance, eh? You’re quite a critic.”
“Well, look for yourself. You’re not blind, are you? Those violent yellows, for example; they’re completely disordered.”
Vincent glanced up the sunflower panels on the wall.
“Is that all you find to say about my sunflowers?”
“No, my dear fellow, I can find a good many things to criticize.”
“Among them?”
“Among them, your harmonies; they’re monotonous and incomplete.”
“That’s a lie!”
“Oh, sit down, Vincent. Stop looking as though you wanted to murder me. I’m a good deal older than you, and more mature. You’re still trying to find yourself. Just listen to me, and I’ll give you some fruitful lessons.”
“I’m sorry, Paul. I do want you to help me.”
“Then the first thing you had better do is sweep all the garbage out of your mind. You’ve been raving all day about Messonier and Monticelli. They’re both worthless. As long as you admire that sort of painting, you’ll never turn out a good canvas yourself.”
“Monticelli was a great painter. He knew more about colour than any man of his time.”
“He was a drunken idiot, that’s what he was.” Vincent jumped to his feet and glared at Gauguin across the table.
The bowl of soup fell to the red tile floor and smashed.
“Don’t you call ‘Fada’ that! I love him almost as well as I do my own brother! All that talk about his being such a drinker, and off his head, is vicious gossip. No drunkard could have painted Monticelli’s pictures. The mental labour of balancing the six essential colours, the sheer strain and calculation, with a hundred things to think of in a single half hour, demands a sane mind. And a sober one. When you repeat that gossip about ‘Fada’ you’re being just as vicious as that beastly woman who started it.”
“Turlututu, mon chapeau pointu!”
Vincent recoiled, as though a glass of cold water had been thrown in his face. His words and tense emotion strangled within him. He tried to put down his rage, but could not. He walked to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.