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Genius or Insane Artist, Vincent van Gogh (1880-1888.) Part Two.

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In my previous post, we followed Vincent from birth to the Borinage. Vincent, at 27 years old, had failed in everything he attempted after leaving Goupil and Company. His first love Eugina Foyer had rejected him; the Church had denied him; he even fell being a missionary; his ascetic devotion to God concerned people, and his poor social skill made him an outcast. After living in the Borinage, with the miners in miserable conditions, he decided to use all his passion and dedication to God by painting nature and praising his glory as an artist.

The birth of an Artist.

Borinage.

At the Borinage, Vincent van Gogh’s ascetic devotion to his missions begins to sketch. In a letter to his brother, he writes his mental torment:

“My torment is none other than this; what could I be good for? Couldn’t I serve and be useful in some way? How could I learn more and go more deeply into this subject? Do you see, it continually torments me. Then you feel like a prisoner in poverty, excluded from participating in this work or that, and such necessary things are beyond your reach. Because of that, you’re not without melancholy, and you feel an emptiness where there could be friends and high and serious affections. You feel a terrible discouragement gnawing at your psychic energy itself. Fate seems able to put a barrier against the instincts for affection or a tide of hate that overcomes you. And then you say, How long, O Lord!”

Vincent had no money; his family witnessed his downfall helplessly. He received an allowance of 60 Francs from his father and 40 Francs from Theo every month. He constantly wrote to Theo, sometimes several times a day. He obsessively requested self-taught books of his favorite artists, Millet, J. Breton, and Feyen-Perrin; he worked from sunup to sundown, copying the masters.

“Dear Theo, If I’m not mistaken, you should still have Millet’s ‘The labors of the fields. Would you be so kind as to lend them to me for a short while and to send them to me by post? You should know that I’m sketching large drawings after Millet, and I’ve done The four times of the day and The sower.”

Drawings of Van Gogh while At the Borinage leaving in Cuesmes.

Vincent Fell In Love Again.

After taking some classes at the Academy des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in April 1881, he was back with his family in Ettan, where he continued his efforts to better himself at drawing. Vincent had a problematic relationship with his father, Mr. Theodorus was very worried about Vincent’s inability to keep a job, yet he was financially supporting him. However, Mr. Theodorus van Gogh’s golden boy was Theo, and he wished Vincent to be like him, stable and prosperous.

Recently windowed Kee Bos Striker, his cousin, came to visit the van Goghs family with her eight-year-old son. Vincent proposed marriage to her, to everyone’s surprise. Kee Vos-Stricker, who heard of her cousin’s instability, replied: No, nay, never.” Both families opposed the relationship and implored Vincent to restrain himself. Vincent remained undeterred, convinced she might soften and come to love him. He, who was not allowed to communicate with Kee, continued to harass her with letters until he went to Amsterdam to her family’s home, forced his way in, put his hand on a candle, and asked to see her as long as he could keep his hand on it. Kee’s father blew the candle out and threw him out. He was distressed from another rejection.

Hague.

After the fiasco and the embarrassment he created for his family and the Vos Stricker family, Vincent left for the Hague to meet with his second cousin Anthonij “Anton” Rudolf Mauve, a Dutch realist painter who was a leading member of the Hague School. Under his guidance, Vincent learned techniques to draw, paint, and see like an artist. During the day, Vincent took painting lessons from Mauve and illustration in the evening.

Anton offered plaster for him as a model, but Vincent preferred live models. Professional models were expensive, so he hired Prostitutes or people from the cafes he patron. One of his models was Christine Clasina Maria Hoornik, who he called Sien. Sien was older than him, biting from life’s hardships and pregnant; she also had a four-year-old daughter. He proposed to Sien to move in with him, and he would take care of them. For a while, he had her mother and sister too. For Vincent, this is as close as he got to having a family.

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Vincent genuinely loved Sien; he was being treated for Gonorrhea when Sien delivered her son she named Willem. He wrote to Theo on 6 July 1882, “ That for me she is priceless, first through the love and attachment between us that circumstances have strengthened, and second, because from the start she has devoted herself utterly, with great goodwill, intelligence, and practical skill, to help me in my work. And she and I dearly hope Pa will approve of my taking her as my wife. I can’t put it any other way than ‘having taken’ because the formality of marriage is not what makes her my wife since this is a bond that already exists — a feeling from both sides that we love, understand, and help each other. As for what Pa will say about marrying itself, I believe he’ll say, ‘Marry her.’”

Vincent tried to build a stable life with Sien, but it was impossible; Sien was an alcoholic and tried to apply herself to her role as a housewife. But they constantly fought between Vincent’s mood swings and her explosive temper. Ultimately, she was lured back by her mother to her old life. Vincent’s father, who heard of his son living with a prostitute, beseeched his son with the support of Theo to end the relationship. The threat of having his financial support ends, and with Sien’s difficulty staying sober, Vincent leaves Sien. This was going to be a temporary separation, but they never saw each other again. By the fall of 1883, Vincent went to Drenthe; he always blamed his brother and father for being forced to abandon Sien and the Children.

Drenthe.

Drenth was a remote, desolate country town where people lived scratching for a living; it was a sad place that reminded Vincent of his time in The Borinage; he stayed at Drenthe for only three months, yet even in this dismal place, he found beauty creating incredible arts.

19 Century Pictures of Drenthe as Vincent van Gogh knew it.

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Nuenen.

Van Gogh had not seen his family since Christmas 1881; he left Drenthe for Nuenen, where they now lived since August 1882 and moved to Nuenen in August 1882. They were happy to see him. However, they were very concerned about his poor physical and mental states. They purchased cloth he refused to put on; he chose not to sit at the dinner table. His father finally fitted the mangle room as a studio, adding a bed for him and a stove for heat. He often fought with his father; in his letter, he complained that he was not understood and that his values and needs differed from his father’s expectations. These were tough times for Theodorus van Gogh, the leader of his parish, and his eccentric son’s walking about dressed like a vagabond. Spending all his time in the countryside with peasants, he painted them and ate at their table (Vincent painted the Potato Eaters.) The town catholic priest band his flock to have anything to do with him.

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Old Church Tower at Nuenen (‘The Peasants’ Churchyard’)

Vincent fell in love with the daughter of his neighbor, Margot Beckman. Both families condemned the relationship, and Margot tried to commit suicide by swallowing strychnine. Once again, the van Gogh family name was the talk of the town. On 27 March, Vincent’s father died of a heart attack; by November, Vincent moved out of Nuenen for Antwerp, and Mrs van Gogh was allowed to stay in the parish house for another year before moving out. Arrangements were made for her to stay with one of her daughters.

Antwerp.

In Antwerp, Vincent was treated for syphilis; Syphilis is a fatal illness driving a person to madness. To stretch his finances, Vincent had restricted his diet to a minimum for years. His frugal and unhealthy diet, mostly coffee and bread and smoking to subdue his hunger, had affected his teeth, and he had thirty-three removed. He took some classes at the Art Academy but quickly stopped and went to Paris.

Paris.

In Paris, he moved in with Theo. Theo was very unhappy with his position with Goupil and Company; he hoped to open his gallery, exhibiting the impressionist. But his uncle Cent thought the enterprise was not sound and refused to support him financially. Theo was entertaining the idea of quitting his job and becoming an artist. But it was too precarious for him to leave his financial security. Meanwhile, influenced by Japanese art, Vincent showed significant progress with his work; he experimented with color and style.

Theo introduced his brother to the impressionist bunch; Vincent was very excited with his new friends, Toulouse Lautrec, Corman, Gauguin, and Rusell. Theo and Vincent began collecting Japanese prints; he created over 230 paintings in the two years he lived in Paris. The living arrangement at Theo’s small apartment was complicated. Vincent drank a lot and was messy, disorganized, unpredictable opinionated, and uncompromising in his views; these caused much friction with Theo and the other artists. On Monday, 20 February 1888, Vincent decided to leave Paris and move on to the south of France. He yearned for brighter light and colored landscapes.

Arles

Vincent arrived at Arles on Monday, 20 February 1888; Paris had mentally and physically exhausted him. Initially, he intended to stay temporarily in Arles and then make his way to Marseille later. Between the end of February and early May, van Gogh rented a room from Albert Carrel and Cathérine Carrel-Garcin. Hotel Restaurant Carrel, then 1 May, he rented the “Yellow House,” a four-room lodging whose rent was cheaper.

My dear brother, I came to the south and threw myself into work for several reasons. To want to see another light, to believe that looking at nature under a brighter sky can give us a more accurate idea of the Japanese way of feeling and drawing. Wanting, finally, to see this stronger sun because one feels that without knowing it, one couldn’t understand the paintings of Delacroix from the point of view of execution and technique and because one feels that the prism colors are veiled in mist in the north. – Vincent To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 10 September 1889.

Vincent hoped to begin an Art colony with Paul Gauguin as a leader. He pressed on urging the impressionist to come to Arle, but in the end, only Gauguin came and only because Theo was sponsoring him. Theo supported his mother, a sister, Vincent, and now Gauguin with his one salary.

Gauguin arrived on 22 October 1988. The temperament and work habits of the two artists were opposites; Vincent, who lacked confidence and self-esteem, worked from dawn to dusk, rarely taking breaks. Gauguin is overconfident and selfish, with structure and schedule. In addition to the long conversations about art and painting, the two men spend considerable time drinking absinth and visiting prostitutes.

Vincent and Paul Gauguin also have different approaches to painting; At the same time, Vincent loves Plein air and nature in all its forms, while Gauguin prefers working in the studio using his sketches and imagination. They often have heated arguments about which is better; when Theo successfully sells Gauguin’s painting, Vincent feels inadequate again.

Then things came ahead when Vincent learned of his brother’s engagement. Theo was engaged to Andries Bonger’s sister Jo. The engagement party took place on 9 January in Amsterdam, and the marriage was solemnized there on 18 April 1889. With his new responsibility, Theo suggested to his brother that he may have to be more careful with his expenses; Vincent went into a spiral, knowing that he could not provide for himself without the financial support of his brother. Still, losing his only emotional support and friend brought an anxiety crisis.

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On 23 December 1888, Vincent and Gauguin have another argument, this time Gauguin has had enough and threatens to leave, and the fight escalates; Vincent follows Gauguin with a razor in his hand, we will never know what he was thinking, but he returns to the yellow house and cut off his ear – since the discovery of a short letter from Dr. Rey to the writer Irving Stone, which includes two drawings, we can now conclude that Van Gogh did indeed cut off his entire ear.-

Some interpret this action as the one of the toreador cutting the ear of the slain bull; others interpret it as a religious reference. The police are called, Vincent is found nearly consent, and he is hospitalized; on 24 December, Gauguin sends a telegram to Theo, who immediately takes the night train to Arles. Gauguin traveled back to Paris with Theo, who left Arles on Tuesday, 25 December.

After Theo returned to Paris, Theo gave an account of his visit in a letter he wrote Jo, their sister, on 28 December: ‘I found Vincent in the hospital in Arles. The people around him realized from his agitation that for the past few days, he had been showing symptoms of that most dreadful illness, madness, and an attack of fièvre chaude, when he injured himself with a razor, was the reason he was taken to hospital. Will he remain insane? The doctors think it possible.”

Vincent did recover and returned to the Yellow House. His mental health kept downgrading slowly; his poor diet, excessive drinking, and extreme work regimen kept taking a significant toll. The next chapter of the tragic life of Chapiter is Vincent’s last month before his alleged suicide. To read part one: Other van Gogh readings