After the altercation with Gauguin, Van Gogh returned to his room, where he was assaulted by voices and severed his left ear with a razor (either wholly or in part; accounts differ),[note 9] causing severe bleeding. He bandaged the wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a woman at a brothel Van Gogh and Gauguin both frequented. Van Gogh was found unconscious the next morning by a policeman and taken to hospital, where Félix Rey, a young doctor still in training, treated him. The ear was delivered to the hospital, but Rey did not attempt to reattach it as too much time had passed.
Ill from drink and suffering from smoker's cough, in February 1888 Van Gogh sought refuge in Arles. He seems to have moved with thoughts of founding an art colony. The Danish artist Christian Mourier-Petersen became his companion for two months, and at first Arles appeared exotic. In a letter, he described it as a foreign country: "The Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésienne going to her First Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the people drinking absinthe, all seem to me creatures from another world."
Vincent Van Gogh's life was a short one but almost three years of it were spent in Britain. A big new exhibition at Tate Britain in London brings together 50 of his pictures - including some masterpieces - to show how life in the capital and the art scene in Britain - influenced the young artist. And how he in turn influenced British artists such as Francis Bacon.
Van Gogh strove to be a painter of rural life and nature, and during his first summer in Arles he used his new palette to paint landscapes and traditional rural life. His belief that a power existed behind the natural led him to try to capture a sense of that power, or the essence of nature in his art, sometimes through the use of symbols. His renditions of the sower, at first copied from Jean-François Millet, reflect Van Gogh's religious beliefs: the sower as Christ sowing life beneath the hot sun. These were themes and motifs he returned to often to rework and develop. His paintings of flowers are filled with symbolism, but rather than use traditional Christian iconography he made up his own, where life is lived under the sun and work is an allegory of life. In Arles, having gained confidence after painting spring blossoms and learning to capture bright sunlight, he was ready to paint The Sower.
During the last six or seven months of the year 1889, he has also created at least fifteen paintings of olive trees, a subject which he considered as demanding and compelling. Among these works are Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889), about which in a letter to his brother Van Gogh wrote, "At last I have a landscape with olives".While in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh spent time outside the asylum, where he painted trees in the olive groves. In these works natural life is rendered as gnarled and arthritic as if a personification of the natural world, which are, according to Hughes, filled with "a continuous field of energy of which nature is a manifestation".
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