July 3, 2011

Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Daily, I spend about 2 hours on traffic going to work. Sometimes I am able to read on the buss. I prefer fast texts like poems or short stories, because the buss shakes a lot and I get dizzy.

Brazilian Version
By L&PM Pocket Book

My current buss-book is called Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Etten, September 1881

Van Gogh was 37 and on the edge of fame when, in 1890, he shot and killed himself. Unable to sell his brilliant canvases, he was utterly dependent upon his younger brother, Theo, to whom most of the letters collected here are written. Anguished by loss of faith after planning to be a priest, disappointed in several once-promising love affairs, he was also so tormented by poverty that one of his artistic breakthroughs occurred when, without proper colors, he brushed in "a garden, green by nature, but painted without actual green, nothing but Prussian blue and chrome yellow." 

Whether van Gogh's suicide was the inevitable culmination of depression, or due to epilepsy or to professional frustration (he is remembered, beyond his pictures, for razoring off part of his ear), his letters reveal that the end was long contemplated. In 1878, he had written to Theo, "It must be good to die in the knowledge that one has done some truthful work." By the time he put a hole in his chest, he knew he had done that. The letters, edited by de Leeuw, the director of the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, echo the artist's passionate voice, and the connective narrative excerpts other letters that readers may regret not having in full. Integral to the letters are 49 pen-and-ink sketches that evidence van Gogh's development into a creative force. Although each letter possesses an inherent pathos because one knows what lies ahead, van Gogh's epistolary appeal goes beyond melodrama. Often inspired by books despite being a limner of peasant life and the land, he once wrote, "How beautiful Shakespeare is, who else is as mysterious as he is; his language and method are like a brush trembling with excitement and ecstasy." 


This is a very fine collection of the letters, with multiple sides of VVG revealed. To read a collection of letters by an artist whose work you know very well is to invite yourself to take a look at him as a person. As a person, I found that I liked him best in these letters when he was struggling with his religion, his art, and his purpose. 

He writes about his friendships, his family, his attempts at love affairs, his religious beliefs and questions, and most importantly, about his art. These letters reveal him as anything but the anti-social person often portrayed in the past, with the ones about his relationship with his brother Theo being particularly touching.

Van Gogh was a prolific correspondent and an absolutely wonderful writer. His prose is remarkable--he could have been a writer as well as an artist. These letters shed light on the inner thoughts and the inspiration for his art and show him as a person of great passion and compassion.

One of the passages I liked was: ". . . after all I think, I think, that I would still rather be a shoemaker than a musician in colours."

So, if you want to join me in this reading, I would be honored. I am starting it now.
I will definitely take a LONG time to read as I always feel dizzy reading on the buss...

Also, I found this website really interesting: http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters.html and http://www.vggallery.com/letters/to_theo_saintremy.htm

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