Vincent Van Gogh was a fascinating character and while we think we know him there is always another level to understand. We recently visited St Remy de Provence, where the artist was a virtual prisoner as he was treated for all his problems. My September painting is The Starry Night, an image known to all. I will post another blog on St Remy but first to my reason for choosing this painting.
The Starry Night was painted in 1889 in his tiny room in St Remy. It was one of the few paintings he completed there from memory rather than ‘en plain air’. The reason was that the doctors would not let him outside after dark due to all his problems. His brush work was completed in the dark of his tiny bedroom. It is a stunning piece of reality that could only be produced by a troubled mind. Scientists have tried to prove that the swirls are genuine images but not visible to the naked eye. How could he have seen these swirls of electromagnetic radiation even before they were discovered. Interesting theory but maybe a stretch of the modern mind’s imagination! The cypress tree on the left off set by the rooftops of St Remy.
My second observation takes me back to my early lectures in Art History. Walter Benjamin, a German essayist wrote his famous work in 1935, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In this essay he proposes that as the reproduction of art enters an industrial scale the aura of the original is lost. The Starry Night is probably the best example in art (second maybe behind the Mona Lisa) of a work that has lost its aura, it’s original value. While we were in St Remy we saw at least three high quality reproductions at the monastery, the Van Gogh trail and the town centre, not to mention the dozens in the museums and the bars advertising the museums.
Imagine our surprise when a few days later we were in Finale Ligure, in Italy, enjoying a spritz at, you guessed it, The Cafe Van Gogh, and The Starry Night was the image on the table top. A truly great picture with an interesting history, completely sold to the masses. Walter Benjamin is turning in his grave saying “I told you so”. Do look up the Film Loving Vincent portraying further modern interpretations and listen to Lianne La Havra’s wonderful cover of Don McLean’s Vincent.
Les Paysage de Vincent Van Gogh is an illustrated walkway in St Remy de Provence depicting paintings the artist painted there in 1889 and 1890