Vincent Van Gogh was part of the Post-Impressionism art movement from 1886 – 1905. An artist well-known for producing masterpieces within a short span of time and a tumultuous life, Van Gogh has been the central figure of pop culture from films, music, and many adaptations of his famous pieces like The Starry Night.
The first time I truly resonated with Van Gogh’s being was in my early teens, I came across one of his quotes: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.'” And as a recent immigrant, this quote inspired me to push forward in my interests. In particular, reading…which propelled my reading level in middle school to upperclassman high school level (okay, maybe it had to do with being rewarded with Twizzlers).
As I strolled through the rooms of the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit, held at the Hawaii Convention Center, I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotions, not only because I sympathized with him…I empathized with him, as a human being and an artist. The turmoil he went through within and without. This was something I recognized within my own personal battles.
At the same time, I felt detached from this experience. Walking around with my phone stuck on my hand, trying to memorize an experience. It was impossible. Everyone else was the same, a gesture of partially covered faces, placed just around the eye-level of historical texts, engaging art, and an array of Van Gogh’s work. And as I tried, being successful once, willing myself to feel the emotions that overcame me – I felt stuck and exposed amidst the sea of strangers gazing at the same walls of projected pieces. And somehow, I felt lonely within the collective. I was trying at vulnerability at the wrong place…
I’m unsure if the experience would be different if I had gone without a crowd, but at the end of the day, what mattered was the enjoyment I felt even as I grappled with contradicting emotions. And perhaps its due to fixation and expectation to steer a narrative within an experience being lived. Which I think the exhibit itself indulged in…the fixation of Vincent’s relationship with his brother Theo, something most of us know was significant to his life journey. But it didn’t really paint his story with justice, much less that of the real hero behind Van Gogh’s post-humous rise to fame.
One of my favorite facts about Vincent Van Gogh’s life revolved around someone neglected by history. While most people know about Vincent’s brotherly relationship with Theo Van Gogh, a hero most often overlooked by the greater pop was actually the heroine, Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger. When Vincent Van Gogh passed away in 1890, his works were in possession of his brother, Theo, who was an art dealer. But when Theo died less than a year later in 1891, Van Gogh’s works were handed down to the care of his wife, Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger.
This comes the point when Johanna became the champion of Van Gogh’s art. She was the reason his fame grew, that even years after his death his story lives on. Learning this information a couple of years ago blew my mind. For someone who loves art history, it further sparked my curiosity in the world of art, over what I have yet to learn, and illuminated a shadowed area where pieces of information were kept hidden and should be shared.
Given the responsibility for Vincent’s masterpieces, Johanna began by releasing the correspondence between the brothers. This act established the artist’s reputation, allowing spectators to peer within his genius and the crevices of his mind. These brought Vincent’s story to life in full color. And simultaneously, Johanna stitched together these letters to coincide with Vincent’s works. Providing the backstory for those willing to be touched, by the life and phenomena that is Van Gogh.
Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.Vincent Van Gogh
If I could summarize Johanna’s influence in Vincent’s story, I would say it was all done with love and accomplished with love. Much like the love one can evoke from seeing Van Gogh’s work, the devotion of stories depicting him, and the duality of love and the human experience in having both light and dark.
Art history had always been one of my favorite topics and I wish to share more about my experiences, favorite artists, and/or masterpieces such as:
- Henri Matisse
- Marc Chagall
- Eugene Delacroix’s Liberté Guidant Le Peuple
- and countless more…
Who are your favorite artists or what are your favorite works of art?
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