An ode to van Gogh


I was walking among the ‘Wheat Field with Ravens’. The sky was heavily blue, while the wheat field was burning with a bright hue of yellow. Ravens flew across the field. My heart filled with loneliness and sorrow, as I read the following news on The local paper L’Echo Pontoisien dated 7, August 1890, “On Sunday, July 27, a certain van Gogh, a Dutch subject and art painter… inflicted a revolver shot on himself out in the fields; as he returned to his room, where he died two days later.”

This ‘a certain van Gogh’, is today one of the finest painters we have ever known and most probably the most beloved painter of all times. Vincent van Gogh, a troubled soul, ended his lonely life on 29 July 1890 by shooting himself at Auvers. ‘Wheat Field with Ravens’ is one of his last paintings and also, a rare occasion in which he used a painting to express his loneliness and sorrow. Unknown, unnoticed, and under-appreciated during his lifetime but today, he is one of the greatest artists and also, the painter who is subjected to the largest number of movies, books, songs, and recreations.

Selling not more than two paintings while he was alive, van Gogh suffered from poverty and struggled to establish himself as a painter. Had only he known about his forthcoming fame, and glory as a painter; he would not have decided to end his life. Alas! How unfair is life!

 His agony, sorrow, loneliness, his never-ending search for love and warmth gave birth to incredible pieces of art. His reckless nature and the ability to see beauty in life despite all harshness, make him a unique personality. Being an extremely passionate painter, van Gogh painted all his life, every moment and has left at least 900 paintings for us.

The deafening bang of gunshots awoke me from my dream. Feared ravens flew fluttering their heavy feathers. As I was running towards the noise, these words of van Gogh, written to his brother Theo echoed in my mind;

“If I didn’t have your friendship, it would get so I’d commit suicide without a pang of remorse, and cowardly though I am, in the end, I would really do it.”

I feared the worst.

My mind wandered to the past. Two years ago, on 23 December 1888, van Gogh slashed off part of his right ear. Someone who saw beauty in everything, someone who was passionate about colours, unfortunately, did not see the beauty of his own life. He coloured the world for us, left a beautiful unmatchable legacy and suffered alone in his doomed black and white world. His recklessness and self-abusive nature were one of his biggest demons.

Even after slashing off his ear, van Gogh painted. Yes, he painted himself with his ear bandaged. That was a painting full of colour and life. But his eyes, yes, his piercing eyes, filled with agony, unsaid pain, are like deep dark doors to his saddened soul.

From 1889 to 1890 van Gogh spent a year in the mental hospital at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Although he was mentally unstable and was under a doctor’s care, his passion for painting was untouched and unshaken. He painted, painted and painted. Within this one year, he painted about 150 paintings. I wonder if there was ever another man apart from van Gogh who had such a great appetite for art.

Talent and passion for art must have been too heavy for him. One man being showered with such an abundance of artistic skill must have been unbearable.

He once said, “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”.

His love for sunflowers was never-ending. Bright yellow sunflowers lit his little yellow room. Lying on his bed with self-inflicted wounds, van Gogh uttered to his brother Theo, “The sadness will last forever.”

Theo, an epitome of brotherly love, spent two days nursing injured van Gogh. Suffering for two days, the great painter closed his eyes forever.

Theo followed his brother after seven months.

The Ravens have gone. The blue sky has turned into an indigo shade with a tint of cobalt blue here and there. Stars shining in yellow were lighting the sky. Its reflection was on the waters below. A ‘Starlit Sky over the Rhone’ was mesmerising me.

I walked further. The bright yellow wheat field vanished and appeared a sea of golden sunflowers. The plants were taller than me and the flowers were larger than a saucer. The bright yellow hue was hypnotising. Beyond a tall row of sunflowers, was a man with red hair. He was busy plucking some sunflowers. The red-haired man had a half-grown red beard. He did not notice me. He was enjoying the delicate beauty of the golden sunflowers and the warmth of the sunshine.

“I find comfort in contemplating the sunflowers”, I heard him saying to himself.

Loving Vincent, yes, that was him; indulged in the beauty of nature and examining the colours. All the sadness, the agony, the never-ending search for love and warmth, was no more. He was bathing in the sunshine.  “I dream my painting and I paint my dream”, he said.

“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say ‘he feels deeply, he feels tenderly’,” said van Gogh in a soft voice. Yes, Loving Vincent, you have touched our hearts and our souls forever. We always say that, you felt deeply and you felt tenderly.

“Loving Vincent, you are our most beloved great painter”, I said.

The piercing blue eyes met mine; they were twitching with a sense of happiness. His lips were sealed with a gentle, calm smile. And he walked, calmly, and vanished among the sun-bathing sunflowers.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy