Van Gogh, a formidable walker (A Life in Letters)

“….The Arlesian sun smote Vincent between the eyes, and broke him wide open. It was a whirling liquid ball of lemon-yellow fire, shooting across a hard blue sky and filling the air with blinding light. The terrific heat and intense clarity of the air created a new and unfamiliar world….The country around Arles is the most torn, desperately lashed section in the province. The sun burns the brains right out of their heads. The mistral whips the town into a frenzy 200 days out of every year. If you tries to walk the streets, it smashes toy against the buildings. If you are out on the fields, it knocks you down and grinds you into the dirt. It twists your insides until you think you cant bear it another minute. The infernal wind tear out windows, pull up the trees, knock down fences, lash the men and animals in the fields until they would surely fly in pieces..” {The Parisian journalist to Vincent}. …the modern times, we are living in, are running short of such intense and picturesque conversations!

Many of Van Gogh’s best known works were produced in during his stay in Arles. Intoxicated, Inebriated by the bright sun, which relentlessly scorched the top of his head and threw before his eyes the veil of dancing fire to which he had become accustomed, Van Gogh captured the landscape, the people and the small town in exaggerated colors and darker/introspective shades.    

16 October 1888

My Dear Theo

I’m sending you a little sketch at long last to give you at least some idea of the direction my work is taking. Because I feel quite well again today. My eyes are still tired, but I had a new idea all the same and here is the sketch of it. This time it’s simply my bedroom. Only here everything depends on the color, and by simplifying it I am lending it more style, creating an overall impression of rest or sleep. In fact, a look at the picture ought to rest the mind, or rather the imagination. The broad lines of the furniture again must express inviolable rest.

The walls are pale violet. The floor – is red tiles.

The wood of the bed and the chair is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheet and the pillows very light lime green.

The blanket scarlet.The window green. The washstand orange, the basin blue.

The doors lilac.And that’s all – nothing of any consequence in this shuttered room.

Portraits on the wall, and a mirror, and a hand towel, and some clothes. The frame – because there is no white in the picture – will be white. This by way of revenge for the enforced rest I have had to take. I shall work on it again all day tomorrow, but you can see how simple the conception is. The shadows and the cast shadows are left out and it is painted in bright flat tints like the Japanese prints. It will form a contrast to, for example, the Tarascon diligence and the Night Café. I am not writing you a long letter because I intend starting very early tomorrow in the cool morning light so as to finish my canvas…..

Ever yours, Vincent. 

The hot Provence sun burnt all the illness out of Vincent and he worked full blaze. But, at times, he struggled with the realisation that how utterly lonely he had been. He fell desperately in love with his yellow house. And he was keen to have Gauguin with him in Arles. He spent a minimum for the bare necessities of life, and sunk all the rest into the house. Each day he had to make a choice between himself and the Yellow House. Should he have meat for dinner, or buy the majolica jug? Should he buy a new pair of shoes, or get that green quilt for Gauguin’s bed? Should he order a pine frame for his new canvas, or buy those rush-bottom chairs? The Yellow house, as you can feel, seemed to have given him a a sense of tranquility, a sense that he was working towards a secure future. Finally, he had a reason, some kind of direction, as he had drifted too much knocked about without rhyme and reason. I,truly, am struck with the way Van Gogh described the furniture in the room, the colors chosen for each furniture item, his conscious effort to make the character of each richer.  His room was not grand, but he ensured that each element in the room suggested rest or sleep in general. He said, “Everything from the chairs to the pictures have character…the beds…give an appearance of solidity, durability and quiet…” As an admirer, as a keen consumer of such a riotous mood of a space, I feel a great sense of energy about the room, which had seen this legendary painter through his volatile tensions and emotional upheavals, and am sure it would have comforted, in some way that’s too difficult to grasp for the rest of the world, would have fulfilled his desire for harmony. It is not a sketch of bedroom, where everything is arranged with a sense of perfection and taste. More than a sense of perfection, the room seemed reflecting a sense of anticipation and someone’s desire to draw comfort from the position of each furniture item. There is a chair positioned next to the head of the bed as if someone would sit there and read out a story. The other chair is placed at the door…I cant fathom the reason behind its position, but I usually do this when I stay in a room that is not mine- could be a guest house or a hotel room. The sketch has two chairs, two doors, two portraits…a pair of almost everything in the room ….he had a co-tenant. Vincent decorated the house with paintings of  Sunflowers, making it as pleasant as he possibly could. Gauguin came in October, 1888. They shared the studio, ate together, went on trips together.

On 23 October 1888, just when Van Gogh was beginning to become annoyed at Gauguin’s reluctance to turn-up, and was thinking of inviting Bernard as an alternative co-tenant for the Yellow House, Gauguin arrived in Arles. Gauguin claimed later than his stay in Arles had seemed to go on for ever, but the notorious association of the two painters in fact lasted for precisely nine weeks.