Monday, February 15, 2010

In praise of... Van Gogh’s letters

Can’t be bothered to make the trip south for the Real Van Gogh and His Letters exhibition at the Royal Academy in London?
Fair enough. Don’t blame you. All that way to see a wheatfield with such dreich weather. And those swirly stars. Strictly Arles Primary School.
However, in fairness, this exhibition, which runs until April 18, is different as it features the artist’s letters to his brother, Theo, as well. These show another side to the man, one that sheds revealing light on many of his most famous pictures.
Take this from May 12, 1889: “My dear Theo, I must tell you about this chair I bought in the pretty village of L’Ikea. It is a total nightmare. Wonky doesn’t quite capture it. How do they get away with it? Les Fran├žais … je ne sais pas. I have made a small painting to give you the idea. People say everything looks wrong in it. I say, ‘Exactly, you should try sitting on it’.”
Or this from July in the same year: “My dear Theo, the little girl from next door came over today. She started adding more dabs of paint to my self-portrait, great thick lines of colour. She was having such fun I did not have the heart to stop her. People seem to like the effect – they say the picture has a visionary power. I do not know whether to tell them the truth. Now she has added more yellow to my Sunflowers and they like that too.”
Finally, a questionable humour is revealed in a short note that the artist left for his brother when he visited in February 1890.
They had been to a local cafe the night before and had enjoyed a little too much vin rouge. Theo stayed over but had to leave early in the morning. Vincent wrote: “Theo – help yourself to breakfast etc. V.
“PS: As the English say, ‘Wake me up before you Gaugin’.”

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