Van Gogh: Genius and Covetous?

Vincent Van Gogh: A man of many talents…and many mysteries.  Here’s a small list of ‘did you know…?’:

  • That he was a teacher?
  • That he was a missionary?
  • That he was a late-bloomer, artistically?  (He didn’t start painting until his late-twenties.)
  • That he was an extremely dedicated worker…he produced around 2,100 artworks in about ten years.  That works out to 210 sketches/paintings/watercolours/doodles per year!  (If you happen to be in possession of any of them, you’d be guaranteed to be an owner of a valuable piece of art!)
  • That he was named after his stillborn baby brother?
  • That he suffered from mental illness…leading up to the supposed self-inflicted shooting?
  • That after he shot himself, he was able to walk back to his hostel, and was left smoking a pipe by two physicians who told him they couldn’t remove the bullet?
  • That he survived for 29 hours after he was shot?
  • That there is a theory that somebody else shot him, because the gun was never found?

And, for the purposes of this article:
That he was a ‘the grass is always greener…’ sort of guy.

Japonaiserie: Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige), Paris, 1887. Can you tell it’s a copy?
The Courtesan (after Eisen), Paris, 1887.

Allow me to explain.  For me, it’s usually: ‘I wish I was taller.  Then I’d be able to wear those shorts, that dress, yadayadayada.” You know what I mean, everybody has something they wish was different, or wish they had.  Van Gogh, or Vinnie to his friends, was no different.  But for him, the green-eyed monster appeared through an unlikely source: that of Japanese ukiyo-e wood block prints.  About the time that he was in Paris, Vinnie discovered this form of Japanese art, and fell in lust.  He collected hundreds of these prints, but collecting wasn’t enough.  He wanted to own this form of artwork, and create it himself.  So, Vinnie did the equivalent of what I do to make myself taller. (No, he didn’t buy a new pair of ultra-high stilettos.) He copied existing Japanese wood-prints!  Now, some people might want to throw the word ‘plagiarism’ around, some may want to commend him on his source of inspiration.  Whatever, I’m not judging.  I will say, that Vinnie’s three notable works in the ‘Japonisme’ style are incredibly detailed, bold and masterfully executed.  Of course they are – it’s Van Gogh!

Portrait of Père Tanguy, Paris, 1887. Look how many copies of ukiyo-e he has painted!

However, finding out that one of the greats was as susceptible to a bit of peer-envy as I myself can be, well, I just find that selfishly reassuring.

But, please, don’t just take my word for it!  If you want to get up close and personal with Van Gogh and his work, and sneakily compare his take on Japanese ukiyo-e with the real deal, I strongly recommend that you make a trip to the Pinacothèque de Paris.  The dual exhibition of ‘Van Gogh et le Japonisme’ is on display from 03 October 2012 to 17 March 2013.  If Paris isn’t your scene – or you simply would rather wait until springtime (although Frank Sinatra does then go on to sing about how he loves Paris in every season), then you may be interested in looking up Vincent Van Gogh, written by Victoria Charles. 

-Fiona Torsch

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