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).
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.
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.