Saturday, April 8, 2017

Blair Gowrie writes

The Little Shop

It was undistinguished, commonplace,
A little shop, just one in a row,
But on a winter’s day to walk inside
To feel the warmth, bask in the glow
Of an atmosphere filled with the scent
Of coffee beans and almond nuts,
See tablecloths in red and white,
Hear the tinkling tone of teaspoon on cup,
Was to escape the weather’s hellish grasp,
The biting cold, the blustery wind,
The drizzling rain, the swirling snow,
And find a piece of heaven within.

 Image result for cafe painting
Le Café de nuit (The Night Cafe) -- Vincent Van Gogh

Night Café at Arles (Madame Ginoux) -- Paul Gauguin


L'Arlésienne: Madame Ginoux -- Vincent Van Gogh


  1. Vincent van Gogh sat up for three consecutive nights in September 1888 to paint "Le Café de nuit," depicting the Café de la Gare in Arles, where he had rented a room since May while he waited to furnish his rooms at the Yellow House, which in the meantime he used as a studio. The proprietors were Joseph-Michel Ginoux and his wife Marie Jullian. Vincent told his brother Theo that "'Night prowlers' can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in" and claimed that Ginoux had taken so much of his money that he'd told him it was time to take his revenge by painting the place, though the actual purpose was to pay his debts. "I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens, in the figures of little sleeping hooligans, in the empty dreary room, in violet and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for instance, contrast with the soft tender Louis XV green of the counter, on which there is a rose nosegay. The white clothes of the landlord, watchful in a corner of that furnace, turn lemon-yellow, or pale luminous green.” The following day he wrote to Theo again, "I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house, by soft Louis XV green and malachite, contrasting with yellow-green and harsh blue-greens, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil's furnace, of pale sulphur. And all with an appearance of Japanese gaiety, and the good nature of Tartarin." (In 1872 Alphonse Daudet had published "Tartarin de Tarascon" about the resident of a Provençal town where the hunters had depleted all the local game and were reduced to throwing their caps in the air to shoot at them. Tartarin, the chief "cap-hunter," undertook a lion-hunting expedition to Algiers; after shooting a tame, blind lion he returned home covered in glory but penniless.) Later Vincent called it "one of the ugliest pictures I have done."

  2. Shortly after painting it he moved into the Yellow House and prepared to share it with Paul Gauguin, whom he had repeatedly entreated to join him and assist in creating an artists' community. Until this time, van Gogh's relations to M. and Mme. Ginoux had remained more or less commercial, but Gauguin's arrival in October altered the situation. His flirtation with the landlady, then about 40, led to her posing for the two painters in November. Within an hour, Gauguin produced a preparatory sketch in charcoal and Vincent a full-scale painting on burlap; he followed with another similar but more finished painting done on industrial canvas with a more saturated and thickly applied color. In 1890 Vincent told his sister Wil, "I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in a hundred years' time. In other words I am not trying to achieve this by photographic likeness but by rendering our impassioned expressions, by using our modern knowledge and appreciation of color as a means of rendering and exalting character.... The portrait of the Arlésienne has a colourless and matt flesh tone, the eyes are calm and very simple, the clothing is black, the background pink, and she is leaning on a green table with green books. But in the copy that Theo has, the clothing is pink, the background yellowy-white, and the front of the open bodice is muslin in a white that merges into green. Among all these light colors, only the hair, the eyelashes and the eyes form black patches." When Gauguin returned to his painting of Mme. Ginoux, he combined his sketch with elements of Vincent's interior by putting her in the context of the cafe; on the left side he retained Van Gogh's sense of isolation but portrayed spirited socializing in the center that, characteristically, focused on the three prostitutes in the background.

  3. Though Gauguin only completed one painting in Arles, the two men often worked on the same subjects. But their relationship quickly began to deteriorate; Vincent admired Gauguin and wanted to be treated as his equal, but Gauguin was arrogant and domineering, which frustrated him. They often quarreled. Theo may have owed money to Gauguin, who was suspicious that the brothers were exploiting him financially. Vincent increasingly feared that Gauguin was going to desert him, and the situation, which Vincent described as one of "excessive tension," rapidly rose to a crisis. Late December was rainy, causing them to be shut up together in the Yellow House. Fifteen years later Gauguin claimed that Vincent physically threatened him on several occasions. When Gauguin left the house on Christmas to take a walk Vincent "rushed towards me, an open razor in his hand." Then Van Gogh returned to his room, where he was assaulted by voices, and he severed his left ear, wrapped it in paper, and delivered it to a woman at a brothel both painters frequented. A policeman found him unconscious the next morning and sent him to a hospital, where he was treated by Félix Rey, a young doctor still in training. (To pay him, Vincent gave him a self-portrait, which Rey used to repair a chicken coop before giving it away; in 2016 it was valued at over $50 million.) Gaughin immediately contacted Theo in Paris, who rushed to Arles and found Vincent in a semi-lucid state, then returned to Paris the same day. During the first days of his treatment, Vincent repeatedly asked for Gauguin, who asked a policeman assigned to the case 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." The two painters never saw each other again though they continued to correspond (and in 1890 Gauguin proposed forming a studio in Antwerp).

  4. Despite a pessimistic diagnosis, Vincent recovered and returned to the Yellow House early in January 1889 and spent the following month between hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and delusions of poisoning. In March, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople (including the Ginoux family, though Marie had visited him in the hospital) who described him as "le fou roux" (the redheaded madman). Vincent voluntarily returned to the hospital and in April moved into rooms owned by Dr. Rey after floods damaged paintings in his own home. In May he left Arles and voluntarily entered the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, less than 30 km (19 mi) away. He had two cells in the former monastery, one of which was to be used as a studio, but his limited access to life outside the clinic resulted in a shortage of subject matter. Though he painted his best-known picture, "The Starry Night," there, he mainly worked on interpretations of other artist's paintings (which he regarded as being like a musician playing a composition by Beethoven) and variations on his own earlier work, including five more portraits of Madame Ginoux, based on Gauguin's charcoal drawing. He told Theo, “I am a little anxious about a friend who, it seems, is still ill, and whom I should like to see. She is the one whose portrait I did in yellow and black, and she has changed very much. She has nervous attacks, complicated by a premature change of life, in short, very painful. She looked like an old grandfather the last time. I had promised to come back in a fortnight, but was taken ill again myself.” One of his new portraits of her was intended for himself, one for Theo, one for Wil, one for Gauguin, and one for Mme. Ginoux (this was the one he was delivering to her in Arles when he suffered a severe relapse on 22 February 1890 and was subsequently lost; in an unfinished letter to Gauguin he remarked that working on it had cost him another month of illness.) Though Gauguin never received his painting he saw it and wrote, "I like it better than my drawing. Despite your ailing state you have never worked with so much balance while conserving the sensation and the interior warmth needed for a work of art, precisely in an era when art is a business regulated in advance by cold calculations." Throughout March and April Vincent he was depressed and unable to write, though he still painted and drew a little. In May 1890 he left the clinic and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be closer to Theo. In 70 days he painted 70 oils and created his only etching. But on 27 July 1890, at 37, he shot himself with a revolver; the bullet was deflected by a rib and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs, and he was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended to by two doctors, neither of whom was a surgeon so the bullet could not be removed. The following morning Theo rushed to his side and found him in good spirits. But 30 hours after the shooting he died from infection in the early hours of 29 July. His last words were: "The sadness will last forever." The following year, Theo ws buried beside him in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise, just as Vincent's paintings began to find a market.


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