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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh And The Dark Side

There are few other, more tragic figures in history, than the artistic genius Vincent Van Gogh. He lived most of his life on the Dark Side, if only in his own mental torture. Like most things about him, there was not even an agreed diagnosis of his disorder/s. Over 150 psychiatrists failed to reach any consensus and there are at least 20 possible illnesses put forward. I am going to add to the copious literature on him, with my unique 'Life Cycles' analysis of his life. I am writing this article as a tribute to Madilyn (aka. Jersey Lil), who has been a great supporter of my work, and I know Vincent is one of her favorites.

I remember quite a few years ago, I was feeling uncharacteristically morose over some matter, (which I now can't recall) and I guess it showed in my body language; as I got dressed after a session in my gym. The club masseuse, an elderly and kindly gent, said to me :- "Don't worry this will pass. Remember it's the crushed grape that yields the best wine." I've never forgotten those words. It was true for me, as I had not even begun my writing or the theory. However, those words came back to me even more strongly, as I looked at Vincent's life. I wasn't really familiar with the art world, but when I studied him it seemed :- "the more Vincent got crushed, the better, more rich and complex, wine he yielded in his art." He was crushed by so many things, but there is a curious pattern of romantic crisis, that develops when we look at his adult 'Life Cycles' 'significant years' (ie. 19/24/31/36). So let's do just this.

Vincent was born March 30th, 1853, so we will be looking at events when he was aged 19 (ie. March 30, 1872 to March,30 1873). During this time Vincent was busily engaged learning the art business, at leading art dealers Goupil and Cie, at The Hague. I was interested to see that the earliest letter exchanged between Vincent and his brother Theo happened in June 1872. They exchanged hundreds of letters over the rest of his life and much of what we know about him comes from them. I have read a number of these. Also there was much joy around Christmas time, because Theo had also secured a position with the firm in Paris. Now the brothers were in lockstep. In January, it was reported that Vincent's father had bought out the requirement for both brothers to do time in the army for National Service and then in March more good news, because Vincent got a promotion to London.

So, no apparent crisis, it was pretty much smooth sailing. Yes, we have to go forward just a few weeks to Vincent's arrival in London in early May. He then proceeded to lay the ground for his first failed romance with the landlady's daughter, Eugenie Loyer. When he finally got up the courage to declare his feelings, she rejected him saying that she was secretly engaged to a former lodger. This was to lead onto a morose period in Van Gogh's young life. He began to turn his back on the art world and was rude to customers at the shop. He grew more fervent about religion and his uncle had him transferred to Paris in the next year, but he was fired soon after. This move to London and failed romance was his first great crisis and he didn't handle it well.

Let's now skip onto when he was aged 24 and in his first adult 'Year of Revolution'(ie. Mar.1877 to Mar.1878). Now Vincent has convinced his minister father that he is serious about a religious vocation and he is sent to his uncle's home to study for his exams. Once again, this leads on to a fateful meeting, this time with his married cousin Kee Vos-Stricker (shown at left with her child). However he failed his exams soon after the end of this year and had to leave. This crisis was to lead ultimately to the emergence of his art, but not for another seven years. He returned to Kee in 1881, when she was recently widowed and proposed marriage, but she refused with the words :- "No, Nay, Never." He perpetuates the theme of failed attempts at marriage, even if not always within a 12 month framework.

Now Vincent has eschewed the middle class lifestyle, left the church in disgust at his uncle's refusal of such a marriage, and instead lived with the poor as they do and took up with an alcoholic prostitute. He was becoming downtrodden as a preferred way of life. He was crushing himself. Here we are now at his age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways' (Mar.1884 to Mar.1885). He has given up his relationship with the prostitute after more family pressure, and through loneliness has gone back to live with his parents. Not exactly ideal, but less ideal circumstances were just around the corner.

He took trips in the countryside for his painting and in the summer of 1884 was often joined by Margot Begemann, a neighbor's daughter and 10 years older. Just as Stricker had been 7 years older. They decided to get married, but it was opposed by both sets of parents. Margot took poison and was saved when Vincent rushed her to hospital. Then in Mar. 1885 his father died and this caused him much grief. Can you see how he was being crushed and crushed, in one way then another. This was about to yield his art. In the same month of March he did sketches for what is considered his first major work :- The Potato Eaters completed in April, 1885.

We are now going to skip ahead to his final age 36, 'Year of Revolution' (Mar.1889 to Mar.1990). There is no question, that in this year he was crushed by his illnesses and his behavior to such an extent, that he yielded some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. This transcendence, in what is often my most notable single year in a person's life, will come to be seen as one of my hallmark examples in the future. Along with Einstein's theory of General Relativity at 36 and Gandhi's first-ever use of satyagraha (non-violent protest, enshrined as the birth of the civil rights movement). It's all in the book. This was the year of Starry Night considered his greatest work. This was the year of The Irises. His greatest art at 36.

In his life however, things went from bad to worse. In March,1889 police closed his house after a petition by townspeople, calling him a red-headed madman. In April (at the start of his age 36 year) he wrote of:- "moods of indescribable anguish." In May, he committed himself to an asylum in Saint Remy and lived among the insane. When he felt well, he painted and this produced his finest work. However, he commented that he did not enjoy the antics of some fellow patients. In Jan. 1890 his work was praised in Paris and he was called "a genius". But just after this he suffered a severe two month relapse, that was to last till just before he left the asylum in May.

I couldn't find any evidence this time of a failed romance, producing a crisis, but I guess the whole episode began with his falling-out with fellow artist Paul Gaugin, and his cutting off his own ear, just prior to 1889. I'm not the first to suggest that his illnesses seem to be exacerbated by his personal crises, but I would be the first to suggest that there is actually a discernible sequence to his behavioral problems and key events, that have happened in his 'Life Cycles' 'significant years' (or can reasonably be traced to follow-on from them). I hope you enjoyed this profile of Vincent and until next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."