I stayed in Paris only three days, and the noise, etc., of Paris had such a bad effect on me that I thought it wise for my head’s sake to fly to the country...
(Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Paul Gauguin, Auvers-sur-Oise, c. 17 June 1890)
A wolf spider ambles
gently down its web [rectangular]
stretching from your easel
to your sketchbook
upon your back arching…
So Zadkin’s sculpture
has portrayed you: A hunter of colors
in a jailbird’s uniform,
your paintbrush held loosely
between your forefinger and thumb,
your palm… limp… wavering…
Outraged, after yet another
of your “electric” quarrels with Gauguin,
you, the “fou roux,” razored off
a large portion of your ear.
Was it his threat to move out???
A fight over a girl??? Fear that Theo,
engaged, might cut your stipend???
Or many too many shots of Green Fairy???
A year in the Saint-Rémy asylum,
you wandered in epileptic fits
and Starry Night hallucinations
for your “head’s sake”
to the Auvers countryside
far from Parisian cafés. The noise
had been much too much for you…
Such a strange individual
wandering the streets alone: Many
preferred you to be interned…
No one appreciated your Art.
A disappointed Adeline
saw no resemblance. What she later
called a “Symphony in Blue”
was, to her, not the great painting
the future would esteem.
In that era of sterile realism
no one envisioned Beauty
in the transformation
of painting [then seen as sculpture]
into color—and above all—
into music and emotion.
It is said you shot yourself
in the gut with the pistol
strapped to your belt
you had used for scaring crows…
But perhaps accidentally... not willfully???
Or perhaps you were scared
by some village teens who thought
it would be a riot to rough up
the earless red-head freak???
“You have absolutely no right
to commit suicide!!!”
rebuked the gendarme.
Your curt retort: “Shouldn't
I be permitted to do
with my body as I please???”
And would it not be
far less problematic
for all concerned to proclaim
Death by one's own hand???
And perhaps even more Sane???1
Upon that wooden chair,
with its paint, chipped,
now standing awkward,
Upon wooden floorboards,
warped… Theo witnessed
your agony in remorse
for hours… endless…
At the foot of your coffin
he placed your brushes and palette
and displayed your artwork
before offering a few
of your sublime canvasses
to those whom [he believed]
had cared the most for you.
How you had waited
for the day you could
display your work the World
had so poorly appraised—
in just a run-of-the-mill café!
Alien Frames: [The Garden of Daubigny]
[The Child with an Orange],
[Irises] [The Church of Auvers],
[Portrait of Adeline].
Only six months later, so too Theo
would wither just like your sunflowers
from his own misfortune:
No one left to nourish his Soul.
A slug slithers upon leaves of ivy
that cover your [double grave]:
Wild roses of rare Love…. brotherly.
A flock of geese salute in V-formation.
1 Given the fact that Van Gogh was relatively productive in Auvers despite the ups and downs of his mental condition, I am advancing the thesis that Van Gogh did not tell the whole Truth when he stated that he had committed suicide. In effect, by claiming he had committed suicide, he wanted to ‘paint over’ the absurdity that he had somehow shot himself by accident.
The gun that was said to have killed Van Gogh was just sold for €162,500 in June 2019, which raises questions about the psychological nature of speculation. Why buy something that might not be the “real thing”? What makes such an object worth that much? And what “meaning” or “significance” makes a rusty handgun—that symbolizes the use of guns for suicide, or possibly murder, as opposed to self-protection—worth buying at all? (See my discussion of gun violence in World War Trump.)
Van Gogh himself sold only a few of his paintings during his lifetime and had to barter some works for food or supplies. Yet now his paintings are worth enormous sums. In 2017, his 1889 painting, Laboureur dans un champ sold for $81.3 million, just below the value of his painting Portrait du Dr. Gachet, which sold in 1990 for $82.5 million. It is time that artists (or their heirs) obtain resale rights worldwide so that they are paid royalties when their artwork is resold. Laws with respect to Artists’ Resale Rights exist in Europe, but not in China or in the USA, where a California resale rights law was overturned in July 2018 after a 7-year lawsuit. Nevertheless, it is time that both US and China reconsider and pass laws providing Artists’ Resale Rights. And English law might need to pass new laws that provide Artists’ Resale Rights if the country does leave the European Union.