By Beatriz Esquivel
Vincent van Gogh would never witness the success, impact, and prestige of his work. In fact, his life was marked by the demons that afflicted it, as well as by what has been described as a great sense of failure.
After checking himself into Saint-Rémy Institution in 1889, at which Van Gogh sought to treat his illnesses after the whole ear-cutting incident, the painter moved to Auvers-sur-Oise. There, he began a period of prolific production characterized both by his discomforts and mood swings to the point of finishing a painting in just one day.
Wheatfield with a Reaper, 1889. Painted during his stay in the asylum. The reaper was interpreted by van Gogh in one of his letters as death itself.It was there that he established a routine consisting of going outside to paint his landscapes, but always returning to the institution at the same time. However, according to the story, on July 27, 1890, Van Gogh did not return to his usual time. Hours before, they say, he had decided to take his own life.
The artist shot himself in the chest using a revolver that belonged to his landlord. However, the bullet lodged in one of his ribs, lengthening his pain and delaying his death for a few hours. Despite lying in the open for several hours, the painter survived until arriving at the Ravoux house where he was treated by one of the closest people to him, his brother Theo.
Paul van Ryssel (pseudonym of Dr. Gachet), Vincent van Gogh on his deathbed, 1890. / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
«I risk my life for my own work and my reason has almost weakened because of it […] But what can you do…»
This is the final sentence of Vincent’s unfinished letter addressed to Theo. According to information from the Van Gogh Museum, the letter was stained with blood and had a note with Theo’s handwriting: “The letter he had on July 27 on that horrible day.” Theo was able to witness his brother speak out his desire to end his anguish and sadness.
Funeral letter The strikethrough is due to the fact that the father of the Church did not consider it appropriate to carry out a funeral for suicide inside. / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)Sadness and anguish are the two feelings usually interpreted in theTree Roots , which some think is Van Gogh’s last painting, though for a long time, this was believed to be Wheatfield with Crows, of the same year, which poses a much more somber scene with crow silhouettes.
Tree Roots does not have a defined focal point, which brings it closer to abstract painting and can make it difficult to read, since it’s only upon close inspection that it is possible to begin to appreciate the roots and the slope at which they grow from, as well as some sky in the upper left corner.
Wheatfield with Crows, 1890. / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)Generally, crooked roots are interpreted as the painter’s anguish and, of course, the highest point of such a feeling that resulted in the maximum expression of fraud against life: the suicide attempt. While it is widely regarded as the piece in which Van Gogh had been working in the hours before his suicide, it is still debated whether he really tried to give a message related to his own death with this work, given the vibrant color palette he used for a theme that could well be considered somber and depressing, which contrasts with the scene of light and life of the painting.
Tree roots, 1890. / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)In the same way, some argue that the feeling of incompleteness is not a fate of destiny – that is, that he decided to take his life before finishing the painting – but an aesthetic decision, as well as a message that would communicate the moment that Van Gogh was going through.
Cover by: Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait as a Painter, Paris, 1887-1888. / Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).
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