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What particularly struck me when I saw the old Dutch paintings again is that they were usually painted quickly. That these great masters like Hals, Rembrandt, Ruisdael – so many others – as far as possible just put it straight down – and didn't come back to it so very much. And – this, too, please – that if it worked, they left it alone. Above all I admired hands by Rembrandt and Hals – hands that lived, but were not finished in the sense that people want to enforce nowadays ... In the winter I'm going to explore various things regarding manner that I noticed in the old paintings. I saw a great deal that I needed. But this above all things – what they call – dashing off – you see that's what the old Dutch painters did famously. That – dashing off – with a few brushstrokes, they won't hear of it now – but how true the results are.
In 1957 Francis Bacon based a series of paintings on reproductions of Van Gogh's The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, the original of which was destroyed during the Second World War. Bacon was inspired by an image he described as "haunting", and regarded Van Gogh as an alienated outsider, a position which resonated with him. Bacon identified with Van Gogh's theories of art and quoted lines written to Theo: "[R]eal painters do not paint things as they are ... [T]hey paint them as they themselves feel them to be."
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Van Gogh wrote that with The Night Café he tried "to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime". When he visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in June, he gave lessons to a Zouave second lieutenant – Paul-Eugène Milliet – and painted boats on the sea and the village. MacKnight introduced Van Gogh to Eugène Boch, a Belgian painter who sometimes stayed in Fontvieille, and the two exchanged visits in July.
In mid-1889, and at his sister Wil's request, Van Gogh painted several smaller versions of Wheat Field with Cypresses. The works are characterised by swirls and densely painted impasto, and include The Starry Night, in which cypresses dominate the foreground. In addition to this, other notable works on cypresses include Cypresses (1889), Cypresses with Two Figures (1889–90), and Road with Cypress and Star (1890).
In these series, Van Gogh was not preoccupied by his usual interest in filling his paintings with subjectivity and emotion; rather the two series are intended to display his technical skill and working methods to Gauguin, who was about to visit. The 1888 paintings were created during a rare period of optimism for the artist. Vincent wrote to Theo in August 1888, "I'm painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when it's a question of painting large sunflowers ... If I carry out this plan there'll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will therefore be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it's a matter of doing the whole thing in one go."
Van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits between 1885 and 1889.[note 13] They were usually completed in series, such as those painted in Paris in mid-1887, and continued until shortly before his death. Generally the portraits were studies, created during introspective periods when he was reluctant to mix with others, or when he lacked models, and so painted himself.
Those of you who have followed this saga and supported my efforts with your countless emails will understand when I say that regardless of money, ethics, William Morris Agents and their lawyers, and anyone else who has the guts to call this project their own, I can honestly say that I am sitting here in my apartment in New York City SMILING BIG SMILES because I know in my heart (and so does EVERYONE ELSE) that this whole bloody thing...and all of your happiness....was because of something I did.
During the first days of his treatment, Van Gogh repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked for Gauguin, who asked a policeman attending the case to "be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal for him." Gauguin fled Arles, never to see Van Gogh again. They continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin proposed they form a studio in Antwerp. Meanwhile, other visitors to the hospital included Marie Ginoux and Roulin.
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."
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly and drank heavily. His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor when, in a rage, he severed part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later.
After Van Gogh's first exhibitions in the late 1880s, his reputation grew steadily among artists, art critics, dealers and collectors. In 1887 André Antoine hung Van Gogh's alongside works of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, at the Théâtre Libre in Paris; some were acquired by Julien Tanguy. In 1889 his work was described in the journal Le Moderniste Illustré by Albert Aurier as characterised by "fire, intensity, sunshine". Ten paintings were shown at the Société des Artistes Indépendants, in Brussels in January 1890. French president Marie François Sadi Carnot was said to have been impressed by Van Gogh's work.
The name of van Gogh was virtually unknown when he killed himself: only one article about him had appeared during his lifetime. He had exhibited a few canvases at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890 and in Brussels in 1890; both salons showed small commemorative groups of his work in 1891. One-man shows of his work did not occur until 1892.