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.

11 Responses to “Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin: Art Discussions in Arles I”

  1. Upside-down Land 21st Mar 2021 at 3:33 pm #

    I can appreciate the art of pedophiles, rapists, murderers and other detestable people, but Gauguin is just an asshole and it shows in his every work. His art, at heart, is disingenuous.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Byron's Muse 21st Mar 2021 at 7:39 pm #

      I do love some of his vibrant, colourful tropical paintings, but I know what you mean, I am team Van Gogh all the way here because he was a passionate idealist and not a cynic.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Michael Hill 22nd Mar 2021 at 3:46 pm #

      I wonder how many of them he was ?


      • Byron's Muse 23rd Mar 2021 at 2:11 pm #

        I don’t know, I try to focus on the artist’s work and not his persona because often an artist can be a real asshole but paint beautiful pictures.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Michael Hill 23rd Mar 2021 at 2:16 pm #

          I think at the very least he was a Pedo from what I have read.


  2. Michael Hill 22nd Mar 2021 at 3:43 pm #

    If Multiverse’s are real I would like to see the one where Van Gogh doesn’t cut of his ear and doesn’t kill himself and lives on as an artist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 23rd Mar 2021 at 2:10 pm #

      And I would like to see a world where Amy Pond from Doctor Who show falls in love with Vincent and they have many red haired children running around the wheat and sunflower fields in a sunny Provence…. I love that episode where Doctor Who and Amy meet Vincent, it gets so emotional near the end. 🌻🌻🌻

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael Hill 23rd Mar 2021 at 2:17 pm #

        Haven’t seen Dr Who for years.


      • Michael Hill 23rd Mar 2021 at 3:18 pm #

        I’m telling a lie, shows how old I’m getting, never mind, “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” ( that’s why I carry a starting pistol) I did see some snippets where Vincent came back and saw how famous he had become, it was quite interesting.

        Liked by 1 person


  1. Vincent van Gogh and Gauguin: Art Discussions in Arles II | Byron's muse - 27th Mar 2021

    […] which Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had in Arles. You can read the first part of this post here. As I have already said, Vincent van Gogh arrived to Arles in spring of 1888, and in October the […]


  2. Vincent van Gogh: Life and Art in the Face of Failure | Byron's muse - 23rd Apr 2021

    […] Arles, and posts about the art discussions that Vincent had with Gauguin while he stayed in Arles; part one and part two. Today I would like to share a passage which deals directly with the question: why? […]


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