Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Van Gogh's Women"; By Derek Fell: A Review

There are a lot of Vincent Van Gogh biographies out there. Derek Fell's 2004 effort Van Gogh's Women: His Love Affairs and Journey into Madness is one of the best because it centers on one main aspect of Vincent's life -- how he got on with women. It starts off with Vincent's relationship (or lack thereof) with his mother. He also points out that being born on the same day as his stillborn older brother -- and sharing the exact same name as the dead baby -- really messed Vincent up before he had a chance to mess himself up.

For some reason, Vincent's relationship with Paul Gauguin is also included in great detail. I wasn't entirely sure why, as Fell notes that the two bohemian artists did not have a homosexual relationship (although they shared at least one whore between them.) I also did not care about reading so much about the creepy Gauguin when I wanted to read about Vincent.

This book also pushes the theory that Dr. Paul Gachet (Vincent's last doctor) helped kill Vincent. I'm not entirely sold on that theory, but it sure is interesting to read about.

The hardback edition I borrowed from the library had many reproductions of Vincent's works and photos of Vincent's family.  Again, Gauguin intrudes into the limited space the publishers made available for illustrations. (Big sigh.)  Still, I highly recommend the book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Van Gogh Painting At Sotheby's May Make $50 Million

Have an extra $50 million burning a hole in your pocket?  That's how much you'll need to get one of the Venus' arms of paintings, a Van Gogh looking for a buyer.  Prestigious auction house Sotheby's is estimates that Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies (1890) (also called Still Life: Red Poppies and Daisies) will go under the hammer anywhere from $30 million to $50 million (US).

The painting  officially goes on sale November 4 at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale.  It is, unpredictably, predicted to be the sale highlight.  Museums, private owners of Van Gogh's works and the companies that insure them will be more than eager to see what the final price is as this will help them re-evaluate how much their Van Gogh's are now worth.

What's so special about this painting?  It's red flowers in a vase, right?  The background is similar to those of the infamous Sunflowers series.  This also may be one of the last paintings that Van Gogh did, according to the New York Observer.  It was painted at Auvers-sur-Oise, France, possibly in June of 1890.

Let's hope that Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies does not share the same fate as Portrait of Dr. Gachet which disappeared after being bought at a Christie's auction for a Japanese collector 1990. That painting's price was over $82 million. Very few Van Gogh paintings have ever been on the open market in America since the 1980's, notes The Financial Times.

Image is from the Van Gogh Gallery's excellent website.

EDIT November 5: The painting went for $61.8 million.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Vincent Van Gogh The Musical -- Just Say No

The passion of the artist committed to finding the sacred in the common ... the suffering of an ignored genius ... the ultimate tragedy of an artist dying on the verge of international acclaim ...  all of this is just a fraction of the complex portrait of the man, the myth, the legend -- Vincent Van Gogh. 

And soon it will coming to you -- as a musical.

WHAT?  No, sorry -- you read that right.  According to the Telegraph, Vincent will premier in Amsterdam sometime in the autumn of 2015.  Why 2015?  Because that is the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh's death.  It will be produced by a Dutchman, Albert Verlinde.  The aim of the musical is to "bring Vincent van Gogh's works to life in a non-traditional way".  Content is expected to focus on the decent into madness and the Ear Thing.
 
Non-traditional is right.  Amsterdam -- you have been warned.

The Don McClean pop song was bad enough (hey -- at least that was catchy if way too fanboyish).  Do we really have to suffer through a two-hour musical?  Or even just the knowledge that a musical on Van Gogh exists?  Only if it's a comedy, please. 

The rather bemused and confused Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam plans on holding a special exhibit that somehow has a tenuous connection with the musical.  The director of the museum has been quoted in the press as saying, "It's perhaps a little odd to celebrate his death."

Just when you think pop culture can't get any worse -- it does.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Overview of Van Gogh's Relationships

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) painted people with remarkable sympathy but failed to get along with people in real life. He was deemed a failure by most of his family, had no lifelong friends and never married. In his entire short life, he had just one trusted confidant - his younger brother Theo. Theo was so attached to Vincent that he died a mere six months after his older brother.

Van Gogh's Family

Vincent was the oldest son of five children. He was born about one year after his mother gave birth to a still born son named Vincent. His father was a pastor, but more importantly his Uncle Vincent worked as a successful art dealer for the French firm Goupil & Cie. Vincent originally was going to follow his uncle's footsteps and sell art as opposed to creating it. He even worked in Guopil & Cie.'s London branch for two years.

Vincent did not receive any support from his large family with the sole exception of his brother Theo. Most of Vincent's letters to Theo survived and have been published. Vincent was considered bizarre and a misfit by his other family members. Vincent tried to woo his widowed cousin but she refused him. This caused a huge rift in the family that already was pushing Vincent away.

Van Gogh's Lovers

Although the legend claims that Vincent cut his ear off as a present for his favorite whore, this legend has been debunked. But Vincent did go to prostitutes. No "decent" woman would have anything to do with him. Modern doctors state that Vincent's bizarre behavior may have been the result of a combination of mental illness and a chronic ailment such as epilepsy or migraines.

Vincent moved to The Hague in 1881. In 1882, he met a pregnant prostitute, Clasina Maria Hoornik, and fell in love with her. They lived together, which caused a major scandal. The relationship was doomed from the start, but Vincent's tenderness towards his lover shows in his drawings of her, including the much loved Sorrow.

Van Gogh's Contemporaries

Most other artists would not have anything to do with Vincent, since his poverty made him have poor grooming habits and his ailments made his behavior unpredictable. He did briefly study under Anton Mauve, then a famous Dutch realistic painter. But Mauve soon tired of his scandalous student and soon would have nothing to do with him.

The only artist to attempt to collaborate with Vincent was yet another social misfit, Paul Gauguin. They briefly shared lodgings at Arles, France but often fought. Both were alcoholics and both were impoverished. Some biographers claim it was Gauguin who cut off part of Vincent's ear.

Additional References

Van Gogh.Rene Huyghe. Crown Publishers; 1967.

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh. Irving Stone & Jean Stone, editors. Plume; 1995.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Van Gogh's Ear Regrown: WTF?

I was first hoping that this was an Internet joke, but apparently it's not: some modern German artist has claimed to have re-grown the infamous ear of Vincent Van Gogh. The Van Gogh DNA is supposedly from the back of an envelope Van Gogh was thought to have licked and from the saliva of a direct descendent of Theo Van Gogh, Lieuwe Van Gogh. It was then put into a computer program for three years and ABRACADABRA a 3-D printed image of Van Gogh's unmutilated ear was born.

Okay, I'm sure the actual process was a wee bit more complicated, but STILL, that's about what happened.

The 3-D ear was then placed in a spiffy box so that viewers can whisper their secrets into Vincent's ear -- which looks more like a creepy Jell-o mold than an ear. The piece is still not finished. It's still growing in a funky bubbly solution while it is on display in ZKM Karlsruhe Museum. In 2015, the piece is to be displayed somewhere in New York (where it may get an interesting headline in the New York Post but then be ignored.)

Anyway, the piece is called Sugarbabe (why not something that can be easily remembered, like Van Gogh's Ear? Trying to be ironic? Or just being a pain in the arse?) CNN gave this "news" the best treatment with this title "Apparently This Matters: Vincent Van Gogh's 3-D printed ear."

The artist, who's name I don't feel like mentioning, told the press that ear is alive: "Absolutely it’s alive!” she says. “What we did is create a machine to mimic the body. The whole system in which the ear lives you could say is the skin. The nutrition comes from the plasma. We have a pump, which is the heart, and an oxygen exchange like a lung.”

Wait -- WHAT? Did I miss something? Since when have ears been given personhood status?

I think even Vincent would have been fatally embarrassed by this one.

"Leaving Van Gogh"; By Carol Wallace: A Review

If you liked Lust for Life (1934) by Irving Stone, then you are going to be really disappointed with Carol Wallace's Leaving Van Gogh (2011.) Stone did the historical novel thing so much better and with far more intensity and focus than Wallace's rather sloppy word-portrait of both Vincent Van Gogh and his last therapist, Dr. Paul Gachet (yes -- the same Dr.Gachet of the infamous portraits.)

A far more interesting book would have been speculation on whatever happened to the painting Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), which disappeared in 1990 after being bought by a really rich Japanese guy.

The novel is told from Dr. Gachet's point of view. Granted, Dr. Gachet is one of the more mysterious characters on the fringe of art history. He was not only a bad amateur artist and spectacular art collector, he also treated Impressionists like Renoir. He clearly made a big impression on Van Gogh, which is why he did the portrait in the way he did.

The plot is all over the place. Dr. Gachet goes into flashbacks into most inconvenient times, which really interrupts the narrative. The big revelation of the novel turns out to be no revelation at all. Dr. Gachet sees Van Gogh in rose-tinted spectacles, which really clashes with the historical portrait we have of him. YES, I know this is work of fiction, but HONESTLY!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

YouTube Video: "Simon Schama's The Power of Art: Vincent Van Gogh"

This 2006 documentary is one episode of an eight-part series where historian Simon Schama takes a look at famous painters and how they impacted art and society. There is also a book to accompany this series. This is beautifully shot with some gorgeous footage of where Van Gogh lived. I gets a bit Painted With Words at times, but is well worth the time. This is not a comprehensive documentary of his life (the whole ear thing is barely mentioned) but concentrates on how why he painted as he did.

Although I recommend this program, here are a couple of warnings:

  • There's swearing
  • Van Gogh is pronounced wrong
  • There is a disturbing scene of Vincent eating a tube of yellow paint
  • There's Simon Schama himself, who takes a little getting used to. He has a peculiar voice and a very drone-like way of speaking. However, he does have a droll sense of humor and has a great sense of why Van Gogh matters.
Vincent is played by British actor Andy Serkis (yes -- the same guy who did Gollum). I wonder what would happen if a Dutch actor was ever cast for a British documentary on Vincent. However, Serkis uses a lower class British accent, which certainly would have made a direct impact on the BBC audience. He uses a frantic energy and a steady determination which grows on you during the course of the show.