Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Last words: Vincent Van Gogh

"The sadness will last forever."
- Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Vincent Van Gogh set out into the fields with his easel and painting materials on 27 July 1890. He had been painting the wheat fields of Auvers since May. By July the weather had worsened and he wrote to his brother Theo of "vast fields of wheat under troubled skies", saying that he did not "need to go out of my way to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness" One of his last paintings, Wheatfield with Crows, is often referenced as being the work he painted on 27 July, however it can only be identified as having been painted in the month of his death. It is a powerful painting and is commonly interpreted as showing his troubled state of mind, with a dark, forbidding sky, the indecision of three paths going in different directions and the black crows overhead being signs of foreboding or even death.

On 27 July whilst in the fields he shot himself in the stomach with a revolver. He was able to make his way home and survived for 3 days, dying in Theo's arms. Theo later wrote "He himself wanted to die; when I sat at his bedside and said that we would try to get him better and that we hoped that he would then be spared this kind of despair, he said 'La tristesse durera toujours' ('The sadness will last forever.')

Vincent's funeral and burial took place on 30 July. His long term friend, the painter Emile Bernard, wrote to Gustave-Albert Aurier: "On the walls of the room where his body was laid out all his last canvases were hung making a sort of halo for him and the brilliance of the genius that radiated from them made this death even more painful for us artists who were there. The coffin was covered with a simple white cloth and surrounded with masses of flowers, the sunflowers that he loved so much, yellow dahlias, yellow flowers everywhere. It was, you will remember, his favourite colour, the symbol of the light that he dreamed of being in people's hearts as well as in works of art. "

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