No, I’m not speaking of my niece & myself. I’m writing about Van Gogh and Gauguin — whose artworks were on exhibit (opening day!) when we visited Tokyo. The exhibit was organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and supported by the Dutch Embassy to run till December 18, 2016. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed so I’d be posting instead photos from the poster and as sourced from the internet.
I’m not a big fan of Gauguin but it is interesting to trace how his and Van Gogh’s works evolved from the time they first met in Paris back in 1887. At the time, Vincent has been in this art capital for a good year. Enough time to meet new artist-friends and absorb new influences in that age of Modern Art. In particular, I like Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait With Pipe — a popular, iconic painting lent by Van Gogh Foundation in Amsterdam. This was painted in 1886. Another self-portrait with pipe and straw hat was made in 1887. There is no telling if this 2nd self-portrait was made AFTER he met Gauguin, but the colors here are livelier and vibrant.
By February 1888, Van Gogh left Paris and set up home (or should I say “studio”) in Arles. Gauguin joined Vincent October of that year. Around this time, Vincent found inspiration in Provençal farm life. He painted landscapes of ploughed fields, flowers, lemons, and 2 oil paintings which I found most interesting. “The Lover (Portrait of Lt. Milliet)” is a portrait of one good-looking soldier with a star and crescent moon in the background. Another is titled “Gauguin’s Chair” , a beautiful painting of an otherwise non-descript chair.
When the besties separated in December 1888, Gauguin moved back to Paris. There were contradicting accounts of how Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear — did he do that to himself? Or did Gauguin do that in a fit of anger? Whatever version you believe, the fact remains that Van Gogh committed himself in an asylum in St. Remy de Provence in May 1889. The only time I visited St. Remy de Provence was in 2003. I can only imagine what thoughts crossed Vincent’s mind looking out of the asylum window down to fields of sunflowers while the wind is howling. Or when he looks up to a starry, starry night thinking what went terribly wrong. Slightly more than a year after, this talented artist whose works are celebrated all over the world put a pistol to his head. An almost failed suicide as he survived but not for long. Van Gogh died 2 days after, on July 27, 1890.
As for Gauguin, he left in 1891 for Tahiti and started painting “primitive” life long after he returned to Brittany, France in 1893, only to return to Tahiti in 1895. Interestingly, Gauguin painted “Sunflowers on an Armchair” in 1901 — an obvious tribute to his departed bestie. The painting stands out among his other artworks of Tahitian women and farm life in this island. Gauguin died in 1903, only 54 years old. His works gained fame only after his death. Sad. But even sadder was this friendship gone wrong. Terribly wrong. 😔