Have you heard the fisherman’s story? He was very happy with what he had — a boat, a hut, a loving wife, two beautiful children and the sea that gave him plenty of catch every day. Then a city-bred fellow happened to visit him and taking pity on his “impoverished state” suggested: “Why don’t you sell your boat and settle in the city?’’
“What will I gain, if I do that?” the fisherman innocently asked.
“You will have a house, good income, your family can move in with you…”
“But don’t I have all that already?” asked the fisherman.
We’d like to imagine that despite his troubled life, Vincent Willem van Gogh had all that he ever needed to be an ace painter, even if the world did not acknowledge his talents during his lifetime. Van Gogh was not commercially successful – it’s said, he could sell only one painting in his life and that too to his younger brother and art dealer Theo – but he must have felt at peace with the most fundamental of all things, some of which money can’t buy, such as his love for nature that is reflected in all his work!
Today, even the cast-away, rough etchings of the famous painter would be able to fetch a few million dollars!
Fascinated by the history of an artist and his relationship to his work, we’ve often wondered what living a life of penury would have done to van Gogh and how did he still felt inspired to paint the way he did – with all his passion?
Unfortunately, very few of us these days, find ourselves motivated to pay the huge price for art that van Gogh paid. Because he allowed himself to pursue the true passions of his life, he could excel at what he did.
In doing so, he did not seek any endorsements. His brilliance was only for himself. He may have fervently sought an acknowledgement of his talents, but when it didn’t come, he still didn’t give up his work. He pursued painting for its own sake. Consequently, it continued to arouse him to his last breadth, nay, and last shot.
Years after he died, we continue to be intrigued by this clergyman’s son, who couldn’t qualify as a pastor and was rejected summarily as a missionary. He became a painter at 27 and died at 37. But in those ten years, he could transcend the curve from his first lesson in painting to his final masterpieces and that’s an incredible feat!
In his youth, Van Gogh began to have attacks of epilepsy. He voluntarily entered an asylum for treatment. His vivid, bright-hued paintings of a wheat field, the emperor moth, butterflies and full-bloom poppies bear testimony of his physical yearnings. He spent 70 days in Auvers-sur-Oise, a small hamlet outside of Paris and painted 70 masterpieces.
In one emotional outburst he wrote to his brother: “I feel so strongly that it is the same with people as it is with wheat, if you are not sown in the earth to geminate there, what does it matter?–in the end you are ground between the millstones to become bread. The difference between happiness and unhappiness. Both are necessary and useful, as well as death or disappearance.”
This grim struggle that the painter faced; his bitter battle for recognition, disease, ailments, conflicts and desires is something we painters are acutely familiar with and have experienced in our lives or we wouldn’t be what we have chosen to be!
Let’s take van Gogh Potato Eaters for instance. The steam from the boiled potatoes creates a surreal halo around the faces of the peasants who are about to relish a simple meal. There is an unbelievable spiritual quality to this painting. The palette is loud, his surroundings quiet and beautiful (The sunny south of France) but they still manage to tell a tale of sickness, despair and hopelessness that van Gogh must have felt shortly before he shot himself dead.
As a young apprentice to a London art dealer, Van Gogh once told Theo, “Keep up your love of nature, for that is the right way to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love her and teach us to see.”
We guess that’s what Van Gogh gave us – a new definition of ‘seeing’ the world around us. Undoubtedly, the cultural imprint of his time, his personal struggles can easily be traced in every line, every stroke, and every hue of his paintings.
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