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Vincent Van Gogh : A Genius For Whom Art Was A Religon

Pissarro the impressionist painter met Vincent Van Gogh in Paris. The two got close thanks to their left leaning philosophies, with working peasants often being the subject of both their drawings. His impression on meeting Van Gogh was that he would go far further than his compatriots or go mad. He said,  “I didn’t know he would do both”.

Nanthaniel Harris’s book, The Art Of Van Gogh traces the life of this brilliant, far ahead of his time, tortured artist whose depression and sadness put an end to his easels of magical colour. Van Gogh turns out to be far, far more dazzling and layered than his many artworks.Painting, for him, was not just an art-form but a religion.

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The book traces the life of Vincent who started off as a young, well-employed art agent like many others in his family. He was deeply influenced by Christianity, his father being a parson who was sent on deputations. A failed one-sided love affair saw him turning deeper into religion.

After a three-month course for evangelists, he went to Borinage where the hard life of the miners made a deep impression on him. He too started living sparsely, helping the miners and their families. His parsonage appreciated his efforts but not the Churchmen. In his time there he drew the men and women and their miserable conditions. It is here he found out that art was his true calling.

The Weaver - pen, ink and pencil. A recurring theme of worker as prisoner f the machine

The Weaver – pen, ink and pencil. A recurring theme of
worker as prisoner f the machine

In a lifetime supported by his parents first and then Theo his younger brother Vincent embarked on his life of drawing and painting. Initially, he copied the masters, particularly Francois Millet. He was rebuffed in yet another romance which involved his  maternal cousin,Kee Vos his. This led to Vincent’s despondently moving to the Hague.

Vincent moved from one ignominy to the next, unmindful of societal norms, mindful only of learning more about art and making it. His only support through it all is that of his brother Theo, who he railed against despite being financially supported by him.

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A painting by Van Gogh of the outskirts of Paris. Notice the use of bright colours and pointed brush strokes

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The Undergrowth with its shade and imepermeability of light captured by Van Gogh

It was Paris that completely changed Van Gogh. He found that art was considered a profession and taken seriously. Paris, then as it is now was full of people eager to try new forms of art and explore new techniques. In Paris, he lived with his brother Theo. However, artists too found the earnest Dutchman odd, not fully understanding his philosophies or his art, which was a distinct deviation from the smooth surfaces of the art of the time. Vincent was influenced by pointillism masters who were also called Neo-impressionists.

The pointillists used dots or other units of pure colour to build up his picture; like the impressionists he relied on the spectators eye to mix the colours when the work was looked at from a distance of few feet; this mixing by juxtaposition gave the colours a great vibrancy and luminosity then were possible with colours mixed on the palette.

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A tribute to writers de Gancourts, Dostoevsky, Zola, Dickens who Vincent admired deeply

Van Gogh was also deeply influenced by Japanese prints with their flat colours and strong form. It was Van Gogh’s dream to have a collective of artists, which was however not very practical being as he was on an edge and full of mood swings. His move to Arles, the South of France marked the beginning of his most productive phase art wise, but depression and desolation personally.

The schoolboy painted in 1890. Bold form in flat colour

The schoolboy painted in 1890. Bold form in flat colour

In Arles, the bright light and foliage prompted him to paint in his characteristic style, which graduated to his curvy strokes that gave an impression of movement. It is said that he often put paint to canvas straight away, without a line form, such was his flow of feeling and expertise in Arles.

He painted extensively in the outdoors during the day completing one or two canvases a day.Van Gogh found the orchards, trees, and locals  all eminently paint-worthy.

He identified promising subjects while out walking, and seems to have worked out the required treatment before returning to the spot with his easel.

In his now famous correspondence to Theo, he explained that his brush strokes were smooth and flowing, just as words might be. “I let myself go without thinking of any rules.”

Take a reconstructed view from this clip Lust for Life enacted by the screen great Kirk Douglas.

All of this overwork, his overflow of feeling and his short partnership with Gaugin saw him suffer several nervous breakdowns. Even at his peak, Van Gogh was unable to sustain himself financially and the strain began to show. In one of his breakdowns, he cut his own ear. The next time he fatally shot himself and died in the arms of his dear brother Theo. The mad genius was no more. His brother Theo never recovered from Vincent’s death. He  tried to exhibit Vincent’s paintings without success. He too became insane and died within six months of Vincent’s death.

Today, Vincent Van Goghs paintings are considered masterpieces and are some of the most coveted artworks. His paintings are considered a treasure. Even in print, his paintings are over-full with colour and life, unlike any other painter who has ever lived. He continues to speak fully, clearly and truly through his paintings, this Monk of Art.

There are some wonderful books that children can read to learn more about Van Gogh.

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is a wonderful picture book that traces parts of Van Gogh’s life through the eyes of Camille, the Postman’s son. In addition to several of Van Gogh’s work, it traces the resistance that Vincent faced while he painted the sunflowers and starry skies. This book deals with how acceptance can be hard for something that is new and different, no matter how beautiful.

Vincent’s Colours receives high praise from the School Library Journal, which says:

This text is pulled directly from the letters Van Gogh wrote about his paintings to his brother, Theo. Each line of the rhyming stanzas is accompanied by a rich, full-color reproduction of one of the artist’s key works, including Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and The Starry Night. Van Gogh’s poetic descriptions will hold the attention of young readers; even preschoolers will enjoy the simple text and vibrant pictures. The brilliant colors and brush strokes are reproduced faithfully. A perfect addition as a picture book or as a simple introduction to art.

This book is suitable for children in the age group 3-8-years-old.

In the Garden With Van Gogh is a beautiful, bright book that showcases the countryside nature scapes of the great artist. Children will love the paintings of haystacks, fruits, plum trees and much more.

 

 

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