Vincent van Gogh and the Story of Pain and Passion

One of the things I learned from living in Holland is this: whenever the weather gets nice, we better go out and make the most of it. Holland’s weather is notorious for being dark, cloudy, and wet. So anytime the sky is clear and the sun is out, the Dutch knows that they need to enjoy it even just with a quick break. Last weekend, the temperature was in the 40s to 50s Fahrenheit (around 5 to 10 Celsius) for us here in the Northeast. This is warmer than the average high for this time of year, which is usually around 30F (0C). That’s why we decided to follow the Dutch principle and make a good use of this spring-like temperature.

We went for a short trip to New York City (about 3 hours drive from where we live). This time, our goal was to visit the two big museums that have some collection of Van Gogh’s paintings; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Most of the work of this world-famous Dutch painter can be enjoyed in Van Gogh’s Museum (Amsterdam), and in Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo, also in Holland). But one of his best paintings, possibly his masterpiece, is here in New York! It’s The Starry Night, a painting that he created when he was in a psychiatric hospital in France (1889).

People admiring The Starry Night - at the Museum of Modern Art NY

Many art lovers found Van Gogh’s paintings to be intriguing because they speak so much about the painter’s pain, struggles, and torment. Yet at the same time, his paintings are also full of passion and pure magnificence. And it is amazing how Van Gogh managed to create a massive extraordinary art in such a relatively short time, despite his great agony. Van Gogh’s career only lasted for about a decade before his depression worsened and the artist shot himself to death in 1890.

It is believed that Van Gogh wouldn’t be as productive without the support of his brother, Theo. And to me, it is his relationship with his brother that makes the history of Van Gogh to be so appealing. Vincent van Gogh was an intensely private person, but he was able to confide so many things to his brother – emotionally and intellectually. Theo was actually the younger brother, but he was the one who constantly provide the emotional and financial support to his brother Vincent. And I’m sure that this wasn’t based on the sense of obligation, but based on the closeness between the two. Otherwise Theo wouldn’t name his son Vincent. Otherwise they wouldn’t write each other hundreds of letters. Otherwise, perhaps, Theo wouldn’t die of sickness and sadness just six months after Vincent died.

One of the self portraits of Vincent van Gogh - I took the picture of this painting at the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo - Holland

Sometimes it can be distressing to think about the life of this great artist. But it helps to remember that during his short life, Vincent van Gogh was able to find pleasure in his work, which enabled him to create immensely beautiful art enjoyed by so many people up to this day. This was evident in one of his letters to Theo, written in 1883 while he was still in Holland:

In my opinion, I am often rich as Croesus, not in money, but (though it doesn’t happen every day) rich, because I have found in my work something to which I can devote myself heart and soul, and which gives inspiration and significance to life. Of course my moods vary, but there is an average of serenity. I have a sure faith in art, a sure confidence that it is a powerful stream, which bears a man to harbor, though he himself must do his bit too; and at all events I think it such a great blessings, when a man has found his work, that I cannot count myself among the unfortunate. I mean, I may be in certain relatively great difficulties, and there may be gloomy days in my life, but I shouldn’t want to be counted among the unfortunate nor would it be correct.*

 

*Mark Roskill, ed., The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (New York: Antheneum, 1977), p. 188; quoted in Rita Gilbert, Living with Art 5th ed, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998), p.13.

7 thoughts on “Vincent van Gogh and the Story of Pain and Passion

  1. Menarik sekali, informatif dan sangat mencerahkan Ly!
    Pertama sekali aku baca ttg Van Gogh ini saat aku SMA, pas lagi ngobrolin lagu Starry Starry Night sama abangku. Lalu dia kasitaulah bahwa lagu itu utk Van G, yg dianggap gila ketika hidup, yg karyanya justru dihargai ketika dia udah tiada. Lalu, aku baca tulisanmu ini.

    Pernah nonton Akira Kurosawa’s Dream?
    Sepertijudulnya, itu film ttg mimpi2nya Akira Kurosawa – kalo tidak salah seorang sutradara, ato orang film di Jepang. Difilm ini, dia gambarkan salah satu mimpinya ttg lukisan Van Gogh. Dia sedang mengamati sebuah lukisan mungkin di museum dan tiba2 dia sudah berada di dalam lukisan tersebut. Eventually, dia menemukan si VG sedang melukis lukisan tersebut di lokasi lukisan itu juga. Singkat cerita, VG bilang ‘waktuku tidak banyak’ atau sesuatu ttg ‘banyak sekali yg harus dia lakukan padahal waktunya sudah tinggal sedikit’… dan kelakuannya memang agak eksentrik ketika mengatakan itu….hmmm, amazing yaa

    tapi bicara soal ‘incent van Gogh was able to find pleasure in his work, which enabled him to create immensely beautiful art enjoyed by so many people up to this day’, mungkin itulah yg selalu dirasakannya..bahwa ketika dia udah tau passionnya, dia juga semakin tau waktunya sedikit sekali untuk menuangkan keindahan2 yg dia rasa dan lihat, sampe2 hal itu hampir memisahkannya dr dunia – atau mungkin dr manusia di dunia ya – ketika dia masih hidup.

    Nice article Ly, I like that you focus on his emotion🙂

    • Awww.. thanks Vin, senang skali dapat komen yang positif darimu🙂
      Ceritamu tentang Akira Kurosawa’s Dream juga mencerahkan! Gw harus ke IMDB dulu buat lihat film itu, karena gw belum pernah nonton. Tau apa yang gw temukan? Yang jadi pemeran VG di film itu adalah Martin Scorsese. Martin Scorsese itu aktor, produser, dan director juga. Filmnya banyak banget yang gw suka, dan yang barusan keluar itu Hugo (dia jadi directornya). Gw benar-benar enjoy dengan cinematography film ini, every scenes bring such a treat to the eye! Untuk film ini dia udah menang Golden Globe buat best director, dan buat Oscar february nanti dia juga dapat nominasi. Film ini salah satu yang dapat nominasi paling banyak buat Oscar (11 nominasi!). Kalo belum nonton, harus banget…. Film ini film anak-anak, tapi juga bicara tentang tujuan dalam hidup.

      Gw juga bakal cari Akira Kurosawa’s Dream, kayaknya di perpus sini ada. Asik asik… *excited*

  2. That’s just so right! Martin Scorsese…
    iya, gw nonton Golden Globe itu beberapa hari lalu , dan seperti Spielberg, orang2 tua like Scorsese di hollywood makin jenius aja dengan karya2nya…yah, tapi gw belum nonton Hugo, Tintin, The Descendant, dll…hanya bisa ngiler liat trailernya…! Lucky you🙂

    dan tau ga, besoknya setelah gw comment tulisan elu ini, gw buka HBO Signature, eh ternyata pas sedang tayangin kembali itu Akira Kurosawa’s Dream dan tepat akan mulai bagian ttg Van Gogh. Jadi setiap mimpi2 dalam film itu dibuat kayak segmen2 gitu dan dikasih judul. Ttg Van Gogh judulnya The Crows, salah satu lukisannya dia. Aku sih tidak tau betul karyanya VG apa aja, tapi sepertinya lukisan2 yg ada di mimpi/film itu yaa lukisan2nya yg paling terkenal….

    soo, semoga nemu yaa🙂

    • Sibuk ya Vin, belum sempat nonton? Gw asiknya tinggal di dekat bioskop lokal, jadi bukan chain bangsa Studio 21 (disini namanya Regal). Nah, jadinya gw kalo pengen nonton tinggal jalan kaki satu blok, hehehe… Untungnya bioskop lokal disini filmnya tetap yang berkualitas, kalo di Indo kan bioskop lokalnya masang film hantu-hantu sexy aja, haha…

      Pas banget ya, baru dibahas eh… filmnya nongol di tipi. Gw kabarin ya kalo dah nonton… thanks info tentang film ini dear🙂

  3. Halo ibu-ibu, seru sekali pembicaraannya🙂 Jadi penasaran pengen tau lebih banyak tentang topik ini!
    Movies talk-nya juga kedengarannya seru bgt..!
    Thanks for sharing about this, Ly🙂

  4. Pingback: Kröller-Müller Museum « Books, Bikes, and Beyond

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