Whatever You Know About Vincent van Gogh, a New Film and a Book Will Stun You
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Vincent van Gogh moved to Auvers on April 20, 1890. He died there on July 29. In those 70 days, he made more than 70 paintings, many now regarded as masterpieces. That output is astounding. But the achievement is secondary. With van Gogh, the life is everything — he’s the mad, insolvent genius who cut off his ear, never sold a painting and killed himself.
That’s just a fable. As Wouter van der Veen writes in “Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days,” van Gogh was not poor. Not insane. Not anti-social. Didn’t live in a hovel. He spoke four languages, slept in hotels, ate in restaurants, and if he only sold one painting, it’s because he knew the value of his work and was holding it back until it was accepted and praised.
You’ll see a lot of that van Gogh — the obsessed artist, desperate to connect with people — in Julian Schnabel’s film, “At Eternity’s Gate.” If you saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, you know the celebrated painter is also a gifted director. This is his best film, largely because it’s his most personal — the first half explores what art means, the second asks what it means in the world. You may think these are not concerns of interest to you, but as you watch Willem Dafoe, you can’t help yourself: in a way only you may understand, these are your issues too.
Maybe you saw Kirk Douglas in the film of “Lust for Life.” That was the gold standard — then. But “At Eternity’s Guide” puts you behind van Gogh’s eyes. You see what Dafoe sees, what Schnabel imagines he would see. The experience is exciting at every level. And unsettling: watching it, I often felt I had taken a hallucinogen. The reviews are flat-out raves, and rightly so. Manohla Dargis, in the Times: “Schnabel has made not just an exquisite film but an argument for art.” Over the top? Just watch the trailer:
You’ll meet a van Gogh much like Schnabel’s in “Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days,” a large, expensive book that would be a great gift for anyone with more than a casual curiosity about van Gogh. Yes, it features glorious full-color plates of over seventy paintings. But just as valuable, it’s a day-by-day record of van Gogh’s final months, liberally quoting his letters. This van Gogh is “an impossible character” who doesn’t care about “normal” relationships. But he doesn’t bemoan his lot more than Monet did, and he’s a better person than his sometime friend, the “cold and calculating” Gauguin. This book also presents a short, touching profile of van Gogh’s brother and champion Theo and an appreciative chapter about Johanna Bonger, Theo’s widow, who, 30 years after his death, finally made van Gogh famous. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here.]
The suicide? Maybe it wasn’t; recent writing suggests that Vincent was shot. But the outcome was clear. When he’d settled van Gogh in bed, Dr. Gachet lit a pipe and handed it to the artist, who was slowly dying. Theo arrived and comforted him. Vincent told him, “I wish I could pass away like this.” And then he did.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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December 8, 2018 at 03:38PM