I was an alcoholic for about twenty-five years. In the Fifties and Sixties, everybody had their martini, everybody smoked incessantly. The funny thing is that all through my twenties and early thirties I didn't drink at all. Then we moved to a neighborhood full of young families with the same age kids and everyone drank heavily, there were big parties every night. I would go to work with terrible hangovers which if you're dancing is really hard. I was in deep trouble, you get suicidal and think you just can't go on. I had suicidal feelings, it was just terrible. But then suddenly, like a blessing, the drink started not to taste good. I would feel a little dizzy and a little nauseous and I wasn't getting the click. Today I wouldn't want a drink for anything. But I do occasionally think of taking a nice drag. I've been on this gum for ten years and it's just as addictive but at least it's not hurting my lungs. (2013)
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.
Limited access to life outside the clinic resulted in a shortage of subject matter. Van Gogh instead worked on interpretations of other artist's paintings, such as Millet's The Sower and Noonday Rest, and variations on his own earlier work. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Realism of Jules Breton, Gustave Courbet and Millet, and he compared his copies to a musician's interpreting Beethoven.
Van Gogh drew, and painted with watercolours while at school, but only a few examples survive and the authorship of some has been challenged. When he took up art as an adult, he began at an elementary level. In early 1882, his uncle, Cornelis Marinus, owner of a well-known gallery of contemporary art in Amsterdam, asked for drawings of The Hague. Van Gogh's work did not live up to expectations. Marinus offered a second commission, specifying the subject matter in detail, but was again disappointed with the result. Van Gogh persevered; he experimented with lighting in his studio using variable shutters, and with different drawing materials. For more than a year he worked on single figures – highly elaborate studies in black and white,[note 11] which at the time gained him only criticism. Later, they were recognised as early masterpieces.
There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and around 40 from Theo to Vincent. There are 22 to his sister Wil, 58 to the painter Anthon van Rappard, 22 to Émile Bernard as well as individual letters to Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin and the critic Albert Aurier. Some are illustrated with sketches. Many are undated, but art historians have been able to place most in chronological order. Problems in transcription and dating remain, mainly with those posted from Arles. While there Vincent wrote around 200 letters in Dutch, French and English. There is a gap in the record when he lived in Paris as the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.
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