Painter van Gogh’s last years, new film

This video says about itself:

AT ETERNITY’S GATE – Official Trailer – HD (Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen)

5 September 2018

Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate is a journey inside the world and mind of a person who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the world’s most beloved and stunning works of art. This is not a forensic biography, but rather scenes based on Vincent van Gogh’s (Academy Award® Nominee Willem Dafoe) letters, common agreement about events in his life that present as facts, hearsay, and moments that are just plain invented.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

At Eternity’s Gate

29 November 2018

Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), one of the most beloved and iconic artistic figures in history, has been the subject of numerous films, including Loving Vincent (2017), Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (2015), Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh (1991), Robert Altman’s Vincent and Theo (1990), Vincent (a 1987 documentary by Paul Cox) and Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956), among others.

American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate is the latest treatment of the painter’s life. It focuses on van Gogh’s last years, from 1887 to 1890. Schnabel has created thoughtful works, such as Before Night Falls (2000), about Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, and Miral (2010), the story of a Palestinian girl coming of age in Israel during the First Intifada.

At Eternity’s Gate is co-written by Schnabel, Louise Kugelberg and Jean-Claude Carrière. Eighty-seven-year-old Carrière is known for his 19-year collaboration on the films of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

According to Schnabel: “This movie is an accumulation of scenes based on painter Vincent van Gogh‘s letters, common agreement about events in his life that parade as facts, hearsay, and scenes that are just plain invented. The making of art gives an opportunity to make a palpable body that expresses a reason to live, if such a thing exists.”

The movie opens in Paris, where a frustrated, unsuccessful Vincent (Willem Dafoe) meets the rebellious painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who convinces him to follow the sunlight to the south of France. Funded by his loving brother Theo (Rupert Friend), Vincent sets up in Arles. One day, he puts his tattered boots on the red tile floor of his yellow room and paints them—a masterpiece that now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vincent is soon joined by Paul. (The latter: “We have to start a revolution between painting and reality”). In one memorable scene, they paint side by side, each creating a wildly different version of the same model. Chiding Vincent, Paul says: “Your surface looks like it’s made out of clay. It’s more like sculpture than painting.” When Paul leaves, a despairing Vincent cuts off part of his ear.

Another version says that Gauguin, not Vincent, cut off the ear.

The artist tends to be either wandering child-like through nature with an easel, brushes and paint strapped to his back, or immobilized in a straitjacket during his stays in psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, in the final months of his life, he is discharged into the care of Dr. Paul Gachet (Mathieu Amalric) in Auvers-sur-Oise.

At Eternity’s Gate is suffused with breathtaking beauty and stands as an original look at the internal life of the painter. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme creates the feeling that Vincent is rooted in the earth and rustles with the vibrant bushes and tall grasses in Arles’ expansive fields. A panoramic shot of a wintry landscape dotted with dead, black sunflowers is affecting.

The intense Dafoe is convincing despite the age difference between the actor and the painter. Furthermore, the relationship between Vincent and Theo, who never loses confidence in his brother, is movingly and sensitively dramatized. Essentially, Schnabel seeks to bring out van Gogh’s psychic state, unconcerned with external trappings such as language, a somewhat awkward mélange of French and English.

In one significant segment, Vincent meanders through Paris’ Louvre Museum, contemplating the works of Delacroix, Veronese, Goya, Velasquez


and Franz


Hals. “They are speaking to van Gogh as he speaks to painters today,” says Schnabel. “There is something there about how artists communicate beyond the grave.”

The movie, however, does not go as far as it might. Biographers and filmmakers alike once assumed that social environment and historical circumstances helped shape the artist, so they explored those elements. Not so today.

Schnabel seems to suggest that the title of his film, At Eternity’s Gate, has an other-worldly meaning. “When facing a landscape I see nothing but eternity,” says Vincent in a voiceover. “Am I the only one to see it?”

At Eternity's Gate, by van Gogh

In fact, something far more down to earth is involved. At Eternity’s Gate is an oil painting done by Van Gogh shortly before his death in 1890. It is based on his 1882 lithograph Worn Out,

Worn Out, by van Gogh

inspired in turn, at least in part, by the image of an old, worn-out working class man, depicted by the [French] socialist artist Paul Renouard in San[s] Travail (Without Work). The painting is not, as the filmmakers imply, merely a foreboding of the subject’s mortality, but a representation of his unemployed condition and physical exhaustion.

Schnabel adopts a rather abstract, ahistorical view of van Gogh, a man of exceptional culture and compassion. However, in his letters, the 19th century painter articulately set out his own social and cultural views.

“I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages,” van Gogh wrote, “in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” He railed against art profiteers. The “art trade” has become “all too much a sort of bankers’ speculation and it still is—I do not say entirely—I simply say much too much ….I contend that many rich people who buy the expensive paintings for one reason or another don’t do it for the artistic value that they see in them.”

The painter was committed to confronting reality. He argued repeatedly along these lines, included in a letter to Theo: “The most touching things the great masters have painted still originate in life and reality itself.” Van Gogh’s subjects included coal miners, peasants, weavers and manual laborers.

The intensity of his short life—during which he sold only one work out of the 850 he painted—and his tragic death have combined to strike a sympathetic chord with millions of people over the years. He painted landscapes and portraits with urgency and an unparalleled emotionality. If he saw things differently, it was not because the structure of his eye was different to that of previous painters, but because the structure of society was different. Ultimately, he was a child of the great social struggles and transformations of the 19th century. Ignoring these issues makes for a less interesting, compelling film.

Though the film goes along with the traditional view that Van Gogh himself, not Gauguin, cut off Vincent´s ear, it does suggest a non-traditional view of Van Gogh´s death: suggesting murder, not suicide.

Dutch museum buys third Van Gogh

Van Gogh's Still life with bottles and seashell

Dutch NOS TV reports today that this 1884 painting by Vincent van Gogh, Still life with bottles and seashell, was bought by the Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch city.

Until recently, that museum was not particularly conspicuous or rich. However, in 2016 they organized the big Hieronymus Bosch exhibition which attracted much attention.

Also in 2016, they bought their first Van Gogh ever: the watercolour The garden of the parsonage in Nuenen.

Van Gogh's watercolour bought by museum

That 1885 watercolour cost a million euro. The museum had never before bought an art work more expensive than 200,000 euro.

Van Gogh, The water mill at Kollen

In 2017, they bought The water mill at Kollen, made by Van Gogh in 1884, for three million euro.

The most recent buying of the Still life with bottles and seashell cost 2,5 million euro.

Much money as that is, it is still comparatively cheap for Van Gogh works. These three Van Goghs are from the beginning of the painter’s career, when his work was not yet as colourful as later.

Yet, once again, some people now made lots of money from Van Gogh’s work, in stark contrast to the artist himself when he was alive.

Trump asked for Van Gogh, offered toilet instead

This video from the USA says about itself:

25 January 2018

The chief curator of the Guggenheim museum refused a Trump family request. They asked to borrow “Landscape with Snow“, a Van Gogh painting. Instead, the curator offered “America”, a functioning gold toilet. The piece is meant as a satire of excessive wealth in this country.

By David Moye in the USA:

01/25/2018 07:53 pm ET

Trump Asks For Van Gogh, Museum Offers Solid Gold Toilet Instead

When Donald Trump asked New York’s Guggenheim Museum if he could borrow a Van Gogh to place in the private living quarters of the White House, museum officials said no.

However, they did offer a fitting alternative: A solid gold toilet.

The Washington Post reported that the bizarre offer came up because White House decorators had hoped to cheer up the private living areas by displaying “Landscape With Snow”, an 1888 oil painting by Van Gogh.

This isn’t unusual. Other presidents have decorated their private spaces with classic works of art borrowed from great museum collections.

What is unusual is how museum curator Nancy Spector responded to the request.

First, she told the decorators that the painting is “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions,” but was on its way to be exhibited at the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Then after being exhibited, there, the plan was to return it to New York “for the foreseeable future.”

But Spector did offer an alternative she considered suitable: An interactive work titled “America” that is basically an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet.

Of course, some might argue the Trump White House is a step down from the previous place where it was exhibited: a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor.

A person would have to be pretty flush to privately own the toilet art work: The gold alone is reportedly worth more than $1 million.

However, it would definitely fit in with Trump’s aesthetic, since he has decorated his private residences with the shiny metal.

Spector, who has been critical of Trump, made the offer in an email obtained by the Post, explaining that the gold toilet is “extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

The generous offer was made in September, but the Trump White House has yet to respond to it or to media inquiries about it.

The work is the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan, and satirizes America’s love of excess wealth.

New Van Gogh drawing discovered

Paris quarry by Vincent van Gogh

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Discovered: a new drawing by Van Gogh

Today, 10:00
Updated at 11:07

A drawing of a quarry in Paris is a real Van Gogh, experts have determined. Thanks to the discovery, a second drawing can also be attributed to the Brabant master. The work was presented this morning in the Singer Museum in Laren.

The drawing was made in 1886, the year that Van Gogh studied at the academy in Antwerp for some time. It is not a real preliminary study, but the drawing is strongly reminiscent of his oil painting The Hill of Montmartre. …

Although there are hundreds of drawings by Vincent van Gogh known, it is not often that new work is attributed to him. Since 1970, when a catalog was last made, nine drawings and seven paintings have been discovered.

With the drawing, two new works can actually be added to Van Gogh‘s oeuvre. A second drawing had been known for some time, but the identity of the maker was doubted because of the “academic character” of the work.

Hill of Montmartre by Vincent van Gogh

But the two drawings appear to have been made about fifty meters apart. With that now all doubt has been removed. …

The new discovery can be seen in the Singer Museum until 6 May, in addition to works by Monet, Renoir and Picasso, among others.

Grasshopper discovery on Vincent van Gogh painting

This video from Missouri in the USA says about itself:

7 November 2017

The 127-year-old grasshopper found by crews at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is the buzz of the art world.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant today:

He has become world-famous for his sunflowers and self-portraits. But Vincent van Gogh also liked to paint olive trees. The Dutch painter made at least eighteen works between May and December 1889 about the olive groves in the vicinity of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In one of these paintings, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art curators in Kansas [no, Missouri] in the USA have now discovered a real grasshopper.

‘Landscape with olive trees’ is a painting from June 1889. It was painted in a period when Van Gogh, often plagued by illness and emotional depression, finally could come outside the walls of the hospital. Van Gogh also preferred painting outdoors. He was captivated by the whimsical growth patterns and ever changing colors of the ever-present olive trees. So much so that Van Gogh probably never noticed that the grasshopper ended up on his canvas. …

But it was curator Mary Schafer who recently discovered with a magnifying glass the grasshopper between the green and brown colours in the foreground of the painting. A paleo-entomologist then knew that the animal missed his abdomen and chest cavity and that no traces of movement were visible in the paint. Conclusion: The grasshopper was already dead when it landed on the Van Gogh painting, presumably by the wind. …

And Van Gogh himself talked about similar things in his letters to his brother Theo. “When painting outside, many things happen. I think I removed one hundred flies from my four canvases that I sent you”, wrote the painter in 1885.

Remarkable detail: British behavioral scientists at Queen Mary College in London let bumblebees in 2005 fly around variegated reproductions of paintings by Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Fernand Léger and Patrick Caulfield. During the research, the bumblebees appeared to fly more often to Van Gogh’s sunflowers than to the works of the other painters. Also the bumblebees stayed longer at Van Gogh’s paintings.

And the grasshopper? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has decided to keep the animal in the painting.

See also here.

Loving Vincent van Gogh, film review

This music video is the song by Don McLean – Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) with lyrics; about famous painter Vincent van Gogh.

On 4 November 2017, I went to see the new film Loving Vincent.

Before the film started, the cinema showed the Don McLean song, with images of Van Gogh’s paintings, like in the video. The song’s lyrics have the conventional view on the artist’s death: he committed suicide. Inevitably, according to the song: ‘This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.’ But how inevitable was that? Both in the late 19th century world of Van Gogh, and in our 21st century world, there are wars, inequality and oppression. Worlds not meant for many people more beautiful than that. Enough to drive many millions of people more into suicide, the logic in the final lines in the McLean song might think. Yet these people do not all kill themselves. Many of them, instead, try to make the world better.

Did Van Gogh shoot himself? Or did someone else shoot him? The film Loving Vincent is not as sure about the answer as Don McLean and many others.

In 2011, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith published their biography, Van Gogh: The Life. According to them, the painter’s death was not suicide. A group of teenage boys, including René Secretan, had irresponsibly played with a gun, causing Vincent’s injury in the belly of which he died two days later. Then, Naifeh said, Van Gogh basically ‘covered up his own murder’. He did not want the boys to suffer harsh punishment for what they had done to him, and claimed he himself had fired the gun.

As the film says, René Secretan in 1956 admitted he and his companions had bullied Van Gogh; and that the bullet causing Vincent’s deathly injury was from Secretan’s gun. However, he claimed to not himself have fired the gun.

Van Gogh was an altruistic person; and his altruism went very far according to this non-suicide hypothesis. Interestingly, if Naifeh and Smith are right, then there might be a connection with another famous episode of violence in Van Gogh’s life: his ear was cut off. Who did that? Van Gogh himself, the conventional story says (with as argument that his later supposed suicide proves that he was mentally unstable). No, his colleague Paul Gauguin, with whom Vincent quarreled, did it, write German art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans. And the altruist Van Gogh did not want to cause trouble for Gauguin whom he admired by reporting him to the police. Loving Vincent in this agrees with the conventional view.

The film was made in a special way. Animated films based on drawings started in the early twentieth century. Films based on computer animation exist since the 1960s. Loving Vincent is the first film based on animated oil paintings; made by over a hundred artists in Van Gogh’s style.

The theme of the film is the quest of young Armand Roulin (a historical person, depicted by Van Gogh, like the other characters in the film), trying to find out how and why Van Gogh died.

Film reviewer Joanne Laurier, while praising much in the film, nevertheless writes critically:

In the course of the movie, [Doctor] Gachet’s daughter Marguerite asks Armand [Roulin] at one point: “You want to know so much about his death–but what do you know about his life?” This, unfortunately, is a question that can be posed to Loving Vincent as a project.

Ms Laurier notes Van Gogh’s criticisms of capitalist society; his sympathies for striking workers and socialist artists. They are absent in the film, she says.

The characters in the film, while telling Armand Roulin how they remember Van Gogh, contradict each other till the end. Armand Roulin at one point thinks that there was no suicide, but manslaughter by René Secretan. But then, Doctor Gachet says why he thinks it was indeed suicide. At the end of the film, there is no definite conclusion.

I have another, relatively minor, criticism of the film. Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of an owner of an inn where Van Gogh stayed, was only 14 years old at the time when the film is set, one year after the artist’s death. Yet, the Adeline role in the film gives the impression of a young woman closer to adulthood than a fourteen-year-old. Maybe artistic licence of the filmmakers?

The birds’ sounds in the film are well chosen. When Armand Roulin starts his inquiries in Paris city, we hear swift sounds. In a village, house sparrows. And, as soundtrack to fields, a skylark singing. Or the sound of carrion crows; often depicted by Van Gogh and, animated in the film.

If I read in the very last part of the film that René Secretan, maybe Van Gogh’s killer, died as a rich banker in 1957; and that Van Gogh only ever sold one painting (while after his death, some people who had never contributed one drop of paint made billions of dollars out of his art); then I might feel so angry and depressed that I might contemplate suicide. Still, I decide that it is preferable to try to make the world better. Like Van Gogh tried.

Loving Vincent, new film on Van Gogh

This video says about itself:

Loving Vincent – Official Trailer

29 August 2017

LOVING VINCENT is the world’s first fully oil painted feature film. Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman, produced by Poland’s BreakThru Films & UK’s Trademark Films.

The film brings the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to life to tell his remarkable story. Every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil-painting hand-painted by 125 professional oil-painters who travelled from all across the world to the Loving Vincent studios in Poland and Greece to be a part of the production. As remarkable as Vincent’s brilliant paintings, is his passionate and ill-fated life, and mysterious death.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

The genuine achievement of Loving Vincent, and its limitations

19 October 2017

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman; written by Kobiela, Welchman and Jacek Dehnel

“Art is something which, though produced by human hands, is not wrought by hands alone, but wells up from a deeper source, from man’s soul.”—Vincent van Gogh

Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most beloved artistic figures in history. He revolutionized painting and is admired for his art, his humility, his personality, his compassion. He lived for most of his adult life on very limited means, often among the poor. “The Potato Eaters” (1885), an unsentimental scene of peasants eating by lamplight, was his first significant work.

Van Gogh’s brilliant art work, with its bold, urgent brush strokes, the intense drama of his short life–during which he sold only one work out of the 850 he painted–and his death by suicide have combined to strike a sympathetic chord with millions of people over the years.

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

This helps explain the tremendous interest in the new animated film, Loving Vincent, co-directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, who also co-wrote the script with Jacek Dehnel. The Polish-UK production is a tribute to the great artist and an attempt to bring his life and work to a wide international audience.

Seven years in the making, it is the first fully oil-painted feature film, with 125 painting animators having produced the movie’s 65,000 frames. For over two years, the team of painters worked at studios in Gdansk and Wroclaw in Poland and in Athens to complete the project.

As Loving Vincent’s press material explains, the work “was first shot as a live action film with actors, and then hand-painted over frame-by-frame in oils. The final effect is an interaction of the performance of the actors playing Vincent’s famous portraits, and the performance of the painting animators.” (We will return to the details of this fascinating process below.)

The narrative begins one year after the painter’s tragic death at the age of 37.

Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a listless, troubled young man sporting a mustard-yellow jacket, is given a letter by his bearded postman father, Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), addressed to Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother. Armand’s journey to deliver the letter to Theo begins in Paris. His first encounter is with Vincent’s paint supplier Père Tanguy (John Sessions). Tanguy tells Armand that Theo died shortly after his much-loved brother’s demise–the brothers, he says, were “two hearts, one mind.”

Black-and-white flashbacks depict the tumultuous relationship of van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) with fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Piotr Pamula)–“They were at each other’s throats”–including the notorious episode in which an enraged Vincent sliced off part of his left ear. We also learn, according to the filmmakers, that for his family, Vincent existed in the shadow of an older brother, a stillborn Vincent (“He struggled to be what his mother wanted him to be”).

Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, where Vincent eventually committed suicide, is Armand’s next stop. There, he tracks down all who knew the painter during the last weeks of his life. He begins at the inn near where Vincent fatally shot himself. The innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson) offers kind recollections of Vincent, while the judgmental and religious Louise Chevalier (Helen McCrory), housekeeper to Dr. Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn)–the physician who treated Vincent—is convinced that “he was evil.”

Gachet, who was jealous of Vincent’s talent, stole a few of the latter’s masterpieces after his death. (In 1990, the first of two versions of van Gogh’s portrait of Gachet sold for $82.5 million, a record price for a work of art at the time.)

Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), is cautious in her testimony about the deceased artist, saying that her father and Vincent were like “chalk and cheese.” Another doctor, Mazery, even suggests that Vincent was murdered (“It [the shot] was too low an angle. He would have had to have shot himself with his outstretched toe”).

In the end, the central concern of this “relatively conventional detective story” (Variety) boils down to whether van Gogh was murdered or committed suicide.

Loving Vincent is hardly the first film on the subject of the famed painter. In addition to Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956), Robert Altman’s Vincent & Theo (1990), Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh (1991) and Andrew Hutton’s Van Gogh: Painted with Words (2010), there are dozens of television and film documentaries about van Gogh’s life in numerous languages. But the Kobiela-Welchman film is certainly unique in its artistic/film approach.

There is something remarkable and encouraging about the internationally coordinated, painstaking process by which the film was made, which involved the efforts of hundreds of artists, technicians and others.

As noted above, this is the first fully oil-painted animated film. The characters are played by actors, who “worked either on sets specially constructed to look like Van Gogh paintings,” the film’s production notes explain, “or against green-screens, with the van Gogh paintings being composited in, along with Computer Generated animation, after the shoot. The live-action shoot took place at Three Mills Studios in London and CETA studio in Wroclaw.”

Prior to and during the live action filming “the Painting Design team spent one year re-imagining Vincent’s painting into the medium of film.” This effort included working out how to show van Gogh’s works, which come in various sizes, within the frame created by the cinema screen. “They also had to work out how to deal with ‘invasions’, where a character painted in one style, comes into another Vincent painting with a different style. They also have to, for the purpose of the story, sometimes change daytime paintings into night-time paintings, or paintings which were done in Autumn or Winter, had to be re-imagined for summer when the journey of the film takes place,” according to the notes.

A group of Character Design Painters specialized in reinterpreting the actors as their van Gogh portrait originals, “so that they would retain their own features and at the same time recognizably take on the look and feeling of their character in painting form. There were 377 paintings painted during the Design Painting process.”

The painting animators, charged with producing the actual frames of the film, worked in Painting Animation Work Studios (PAWS). “PAWS allow the painter to focus as much attention as possible on painting and animating without being concerned about lighting and technology, and allow for consistency across the photographs being taken in 97 PAWS in 3 studios in 2 countries.”

Co-director Dorota Kobiela explains, “Our team of painters were painstakingly painting 65,000 frames of oil painting, spending up to 10 days painting a second of film, moving each brush-stroke frame by frame. That takes a lot of commitment, a lot of respect for his work.” The production notes point out that “the opening shot of the film, descending through Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, contains over 600 paintings and took three painters a combined total of 14 months to paint.”

Kobiela’s collaborator, Hugh Welchman adds, “Those painters who were animating Vincent style, which is about 70 percent of the film, could only use the reference material as a guide. They had to then re-create it in Vincent style based on Vincent’s paintings and also on the Design Paintings that we made with 20 painters over the course of a year, to create the design and the world of Loving Vincent.

“Once they [the animators] have painted their first frame, then they have to move it 12 times a second [i.e., there are 12 frames a second], and each time that means moving every brush stroke, so they are animating the brush-strokes.”

All those involved deserve credit for their sincere efforts. However, the extraordinary technical achievements over which they have presided and their obviously heartfelt admiration for van Gogh do not insure that the filmmakers profoundly grasp the artist’s life and times. There is no reason to be so overwhelmed by the remarkable imagery and Loving Vincent ’s admirable qualities to the point that one shut one’s eyes to the problems.

In the course of the movie, Gachet’s daughter Marguerite asks Armand at one point: “You want to know so much about his death–but what do you know about his life?” This, unfortunately, is a question that can be posed to Loving Vincent as a project.

Vincent van Gogh was relentlessly driven to look at life in the most honest and untiring fashion. He found it physically and psychologically impossible to live and work in any other manner.

His paintings seem to throb with emotion. But van Gogh was not merely an instinctive painter. He was deeply versed in the history of art. Art historian Meyer Schapiro once commented that van Gogh’s “letters contain remarkable illuminations on the problems of painting; one could construct a whole aesthetic from scattered statements in the letters.”

The painter took great interest in literature as well. He makes references in his letters to writers such as Balzac, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Zola, Daudet, the Goncourt brothers, Maupassant, Tolstoy, Huysmans and Turgenev.

He had a strongly developed social conscience and paid considerable attention to the social and economic situation (including strikes) in France and elsewhere.

Van Gogh’s subjects included coal miners, peasants, weavers and manual laborers. He also painted women like Sien Hoornik, whom he met in 1882. As the Van Gogh Museum explains, “She became both his model and his lover. Vincent’s friends and family … were shocked, as Sien was a former prostitute. What’s more, she was pregnant and already had a five-year-old daughter. Vincent felt sorry for Sien, though, and was determined to take care of her. They rented a studio in which she, the little girl and the new baby could all live as well.”

Sorrow [Sien Hoornik], Vincent van Gogh

One of his works of the time, in chalk, watercolor, pen and ink, is entitled “The Poor and Money.” It shows a group of poor people who have shown up to watch a national lottery drawing. “Vincent wrote to his brother Theo that he saw this scene on a rainy day in The Hague,” notes the museum. “He was moved by the vain hope of these shabbily dressed ‘poor souls.’”

These are the people and the milieus to which van Gogh was drawn as an artist and a human being. In July 1882, he wrote to Theo: “Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me there’s still a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings. And my mind turns in that direction as if with an irresistible urge. As time passes, other things are increasingly excluded, and the more they are the faster my eyes see the picturesque. Art demands persistent work, work in spite of everything, and unceasing observation.”

And in July 14, 1885, he wrote: “That’s to say, living in those cottages day in and day out, being out in the fields just like the peasants–enduring the heat of the sun in the summer, the snow and frost in the winter, not indoors but outside, and not for a walk, but day in and day out like the peasants themselves.”

Linda Nochlin, in an essay, “Van Gogh, Renouard and the Weavers’ Crisis in Lyons” (in The Politics of Vision), notes that van Gogh much admired the work of Paul Renouard, a popular French illustrator at the time, and asked specifically for a work called “Sans Travail” (“Without Work”), depicting weavers in Lyons whose looms were outdated and who faced starvation. The illustration in question was dedicated by Renouard to Cesar de Paepe, a Flemish printer and prominent socialist who founded the Belgian Workers Party in 1885, a participant in the First International of Marx, from 1867 to 1870, and a collaborator in Europe’s first socialist newspaper.

Van Gogh was committed to depicting reality, as beautiful or ugly and harsh as it might be. “The most touching things the great masters have painted,” Vincent once wrote to Theo, “still originate in life and reality itself.”

On this aspect of van Gogh’s life and on his social and aesthetic concerns, the film is weak. If Loving Vincent encourages people to investigate the painter’s life and work, that is all to the good. But they will have to go beyond what the filmmakers themselves see and understand about this artistic genius.

An interview with a Loving Vincent painter-animator: here.

Vincent van Gogh, new film

This video says about itself:

Loving Vincent, Official Theatrical Trailer

7 August 2017

LOVING VINCENT is the world’s first fully oil painted feature film. Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman, produced by Poland’s BreakThru Films & UK’s Trademark Films.

The film brings the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to life to tell his remarkable story. Every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil-painting hand-painted by 125 professional oil-painters who travelled from all across the world to the Loving Vincent studios in Poland and Greece to be a part of the production. As remarkable as Vincent’s brilliant paintings, is his passionate and ill-fated life, and mysterious death.

In theaters beginning September 22.

Van Gogh paintings and children

This video says about itself:

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project

30 September 2016

Read the scientific paper at this link.

Many of us appreciate art, but no-one really knows how or why we do so. Researchers in the field of empirical aesthetics attempt to answer such questions. The way people look at paintings is often studied by letting participants look at images on a computer screen in a laboratory setting, during which their gaze is tracked using a stationary, bulky, eye tracker. Obviously this is not a ‘natural setting’ in which people normally view paintings or appreciate art, so the question remains how well viewing behaviour in such laboratory settings approaches that of real life.

That’s why a group of researchers from the Department of Experimental and Applied psychology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam decided to use a very different and novel approach. Francesco Walker, assisted by Berno Bucker, Daniel Schreij, Nicola Anderson, and supervised by prof. Jan Theeuwes, used a mobile eye-tracker to track the gaze of children and adults as they viewed actual paintings on display at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, one of the world’s most famous museums.

The main topic of study was how stimulus-driven and goal-driven processes work together in guiding our attention or gaze through a painting, and if there is a difference between children and adults in how this happens. Stimulus-driven processes direct our attention to certain locations in a painting that are very conspicuous, such as spots that are brighter than their surroundings or objects with a color that stands out. On the other hand, goal-driven processes steers our attention toward locations in the painting that are aligned with our goals, intentions or desires.

In the first phase of the study, we asked our participants to view a selected set of five Van Gogh paintings. In the second phase, we gave them a briefing with some specific back story of each painting, after which asked them to view the paintings again. The differences between their eye movements in the two phases showed that bottom-up cues had a greater influence on the children than the adults and that the effects of the briefing were stronger and longer-lasting in the adults.

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project demonstrates the feasibility of studies in museum settings, and brings collaborations between museum and universities to a whole new level: the educational staff of the VGM did not only give us the opportunity to perform our study in the museum – they contributed actively in every phase of the study. We believe that in empirical aesthetics, this kind of active collaboration between scientific and cultural institutions is not only possible, but essential, and hope that our pioneering work will lead to future collaborations with the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, and with other high profile institutions.

From Science News:

Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting

by Laura Sanders

8:00am, July 2, 2017

One of the best things about having young children is that they give you a new way to see the world — a total cliché, yes, but true. Rainbows in water fountains are mesmerizing. Roly-poly bugs are worth stopping for. Bright blouses on strangers are remarked on, loudly. It’s occasionally embarrassing but always fun to see how this gorgeous world captivates children.

An inventive new study attempted to get inside the minds of children as they looked at works of art, specifically paintings hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Francesco Walker, a cognitive psychologist who conducted the study while at VU University Amsterdam, and colleagues equipped nine children and 12 adults with eye-tracking headsets as they observed five paintings. The children were ages 11 and 12. Participants saw each painting twice, before and after hearing a description of the art.

When the children first viewed a Van Gogh painting, they focused on bold, bright colors and attention-grabbing objects: A striped house, vivid roses, dark trees painted against a light skyline.

But after they heard a little background information about the paintings, their gazes shifted. For instance, after seeing the serene “Landscape at Twilight” for the first time, the children were told that some of the hay contained green flecks of paint from a different painting. During their second look at the painting, the children spent more time looking at the hay.

The adults, in contrast, weren’t as drawn to the bright colors and attention-grabbing objects on their first (or second) looks. They focused more on other areas of the paintings.

The results, published June 21 in PLOS ONE, show that when children are given context about a painting they shift what they focus on while viewing it.

That switch in gaze represents an interesting switch in thinking, the researchers believe. The first type of viewing relies on “bottom-up” attention, in which the eye is drawn to whatever visually pops out. Walker describes this sort of looking as something involuntary, driven by the physical properties of an object or scene. The second sort of attention, called “top-down,” is more purposeful. “Top-down attentional control is driven voluntarily, by factors that are internal to the observer,” Walker says.

Looking for your friend in a crowd, holding a picture of her in mind, requires intentional searching. That’s a top-down task. But if you’re suddenly captivated by the sight of a monkey playing a tiny accordion, that would be a bottom-up diversion. Studies like this one on children and adults suggest that with age, “top-down processes become more and more important, while bottom-up attention loses strength,” Walker says.

Similar data would be much harder to pull from younger, wigglier children. I showed one of the paintings used in the study — Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots,” an abstract jumble of blue and brown and green — to my 4-year-old.

In the absence of eye-tracking technology, I just asked my daughter what she saw. She started by naming colors: “Blue, green, brown.” After she ran through all of the hues, I asked if she saw anything else. She paused, considering the image carefully. “Is it dinosaurs?” she asked. I told her that it’s a painting of tangled, blue tree roots in the ground. “But that green part looks like a Tyrannosaurus,” she told me. As her little finger gestured toward my computer screen, I saw what she meant: A green T. Rex head, rising majestically from the roots.

Van Gogh watercolour bought by museum

Van Gogh's watercolour bought by museum

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Noordbrabants Museum buys watercolour by Van Gogh

Today, 10:11

The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch has acquired a watercolour by Vincent Van Gogh. It is The garden of the parsonage in Nuenen, the last known watercolour he made in Nuenen in 1885. The museum calls the work its most important purchase ever; a price has not been mentioned. The watercolour is the first experiment by Van Gogh with walking figures and couples in a garden.

This Van Gogh work fits according to the Noordbrabants Museum in their ambition to show an overview of the Brabant period of the artist.

Van Gogh lived for over a year and half with his parents in the parsonage in Nuenen. He made several works in the garden of the rectory. The painting which the master made of the garden was lost in World War II, and is known only from black and white reproductions.

Private collection

The work was probably acquired in 1903 by art critic and art teacher Hendrik Bremmer, who later became adviser of Helene Kröller-Müller. After his death the work stayed in his family and in 1969 ended up in the private collection where the museum now has acquired it from.