Saturday, August 13, 2016
Frieze and Van Gogh
This painting is an 18x24 inch oil on canvas of a street view in Bordeaux just after the rain has stopped. I focused on the frieze of walkers and the parked car.
I've been reading A Power Seething, a wonderful biography of Vincent Van Gogh by Julian Bell. He writes that in 1885 when Van Gogh was still in Nuenen, he decided to do a series of fifty peasant heads, a project he finished. Bell goes to say, "Vincent was now overcoming the earlier awkward disjoint between his intentions as a drawer and his instinctual feel for oil paint. Alone in a quiet nowhere, he was pushing that medium as hard as any of his contemporaries in Europe." Of course, Bell can write this now because we have a long view backwards, and Van Gogh did go on to paint much greater pictures, and we know who his contemporaries were.
As I read Bell's book, I constantly thumb through a small Taschen publication of the complete paintings to get a sense of his growth as a painter. Despite his accomplishment in 1885, if Van Gogh had died then, no one would remember him today. What is so remarkable is that his greater paintings were done in the last four years, or maybe, the last two years of his life. The paintings that everyone can identify all belong to the last two years.