Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Vexed Vincent?

  Hospital at Saint-Rémy, 1889
In the 1980s I visited the Jeu du Paume museum in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris and stood transfixed on the top floor, staring at half a dozen Van Goghs, including "Starry Night." Then in 2012 I visited Philadelphia, and for the first time walked up those fabled steps of its Museum of Art to see a fantastic exhibit of his paintings on loan from Amsterdam. A couple of weeks ago I saw a few more for the first time, right here, at San Marino's Huntington Library.
Starry Night, 1889, MOMA

When I first saw "Starry Night," I didn't know it depicted the view from the east-facing window of Van Gogh's asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise. Now that I'm more familiar with his life, each time I see more of his work, I wonder how he kept focused enough to produce such an enormous number of radiant works while struggling with mental illness. The Van Gogh Museum attempts to address that question on its website:

Modern psychiatrists debate what really troubled this brilliant artist. One of the most detailed discussions can be found in the American Journal of Psychiatry article, "The Illness of Vincent Van Gogh."\

Here's an excerpt: The illness of van Gogh has perplexed 20th-century physicians, as is evident from the nearly 30 different diagnoses that have been offered, from lead poisoning or Ménière’s disease to a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. Many writers have acknowledged the epilepsy but considered the psychiatric disorder an independent mental illness. Monroe (7, 8) recognized the unique episodicity of van Gogh’s mental changes, the role of absinthe in his illness, and an underlying epileptoid limbic dysfunction that was associated with his creativity but also, if overly intense, would render him ill. Earlier, in an exceptionally well-documented study, Gastaut (1) reasoned that the artist’s psychiatric changes were based on temporal lobe epilepsy produced by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion.

Here's Vincent, in his own words, writing to his brother, Theo, from the hospital in Arles on January 28, 1889: "I well knew that one could break one’s arms and legs before, and that then afterwards that could get better but I didn’t know that one could break one’s brain and that afterwards that got better too."

Reading his words nearly breaks my heart...what bravery in the face of monstrous troubles.

July 16, 2016 - Jan 02, 2017 Huntington Art Gallery

Van Gogh & Friends: Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism from the Hammer Museum

Henry Huntington and Armand Hammer never met each other, but the two businessmen had at least one thing in common: they both established great art collections that form the core of major museums in Los Angeles. In an exciting “meet-up” of sorts, 15 important works from the Hammer Museum take up temporary residence at The Huntington, offering visitors the unprecedented opportunity to enjoy masterpieces from both collections in one place.  The exhibition contains three haunting works by Vincent van Gogh, including Hospital at Saint-Rémy (1889) and The Sower (ca.1888), as well as Claude Monet’s View of Bordighera (1884), Alfred Sisley’s Timber Yard at Saint-Mammès (1880), and Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, Mardi Gras (1897). Also included are such startling images of modern life and the fin de siècle avant-garde as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Study for “In the Salon on the Rue des Moulins” (1894), Paul Cezanne’s Boy Resting (ca. 1887), and Paul Gauguin’s Bonjour Monsieur Gauguin (1889). Gustave Moreau’s theatrical Salome Dancing before Herod (1876), a seminal work of French Symbolist painting, joins its compatriots.

The Rectory Garden in Nuenen in the Snow, January 1885


  1. You have interesting experiences and fascinating posts.

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