A few days ago I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the world’s largest art galleries. I spent some time in the rooms where many of the Van Gogh paintings are. Van Gogh is my favorite painter and I could spend hours sitting there in the presence of greatness.
But that’s not possible in the Met. The Van Gogh rooms are usually packed. I am not the only one who loves Van Gogh. Guides come through regularly with their groups and they always talk about Van Gogh and particularly one of his most famous paintings, A Wheatfield with Cypresses:
One of they guides told about the meaning of the cypresses, the clouds and the wheatfields. Everyone puts thoughts into Van Gogh’s brain and meaning into his brushstrokes. At the risk of offending an entire academic branch of art historians and art analysts:
I think it’s all made-up:
I don’t think Van Gogh ever sat there and thought about what symbolic meaning to put into the wheatfield and the cypress. He painted the damn things because he could not help it, he was a painter and that’s what he did. He loved the bright colors of the world, and he loved even more magnifying them and laying them thick on the canvas. The field was hot, and he wanted to make the yellow in wheat look hot. It worked. Van Gogh had passion for his work and his art. He never thought that there would be art interpreters in museums in New York that would look at his work. He never knew how great he would become after his death.
And that is a very sad thing, making Van Gogh greater yet.
I cannot turn around and walk away from A Wheatfield with Cypresses without tears welling up in my eyes.
2 thoughts on “Art Interpretations”
Wow, I don’t know why I waited so long before I read this entry of yours, Norbert. I too have strong reactions to Van Gogh, almost anything he ever did.
But this particular painting–which I know primarily through washed out reproductions and bad college posters–I have never seen (and I was at the Met just last February!). How could I have missed it. Even in your image here it looks more powerful than I ever imagined, especially the sky, which makes me feel the summer wind, like those blustery Santa Ana winds I knew when I visited my parents in Orange County.
And you are surely right about the academic commentary, though you are a little harsh. Like you said, everyone wants to read their lives into his pictures, and that is part of their power.
But while Van Gogh was ambitious, and studied first rate paintings in the museums he knew, and eventually worked with first rate painters–he never thought he had mastered his craft. He was still a young apprentice, making a painting a day as practice for the time he might achieve his dreams. Many of the paintings are unsigned; many rolled and heaped some place. If ever a man painted because he simply had to, it was Van Gogh.
And then he became ill (or was he always ill), and never lived beyond his practice years, to become a mature painter.
Imagine how modern painting would have been transformed if Van Gogh had painted a mere ten years longer. If only he could have lived beyond his Thirties.
Eric – this must be the single best and most valuable comment anyone has made in this entire blog of 799 posts to date. Thanks.
I took out the harshness word on the historian and softened it without taking away the message – appreciate your judgment.