It’s hard to imagine feeling as though your world is so broken and the sadness so deep that you have to mutilate yourself in order to find any peace. I guess that’s how cutters feel and maybe how Vincent felt.
Vincent moved to the south of France, some say to start his own artist colony while being supported by his brother, Theo. Theo was able to talk Paul Gauguin to move there and keep Vincent company. Vincent had a great admiration for Gauguin and saw him as a kind of mentor. Gauguin influenced Vincent’s style, especially in the use of vibrant colors. Vincent painted his famous Sunflowers for Paul and in anticipation of his arrival. But they had a very turbulent relationship and after an intense and almost violent argument with Gauguin, Vincent took a shaving razor and cut off his own ear.
This was the beginning of a downward mental spiral for Vincent that not only resulted in committing himself to an asylum and his suicide but also some of the most wonderful art of his short lifetime. After shooting himself, it took him 2 more days to die. His final words to Theo were “the sadness will last forever.” He was right – the sadness will last forever because we will never know the fullness of his art. He was only 37 when he died.
The importance of Paul Gauguin in Vincent’s life is reflected in this self portrait – over his left shoulder is a Gauguin painting.
I have to wonder why he put Paul’s painting in his own self portrait. Was he trying to manipulate Paul with this passive/aggressive gesture? To make Paul feel guilty? Was he trying to tell us that he loved Paul so much that he put his work inside his own? Was he trying to integrate himself into Paul’s world? Was Vincent saying that he would never be good enough – never be as good as his idol?
It’s a question I guess I’ll ask him over lunch when I get to heaven.