As The Nightingale Sings
13 July 2k9
“Oh, my dear boy, sometimes I know so well what I want. I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, ill as I am, do without something which is greater than I—the power to create.” Vincent to Theo~Letter no.531
In his definitive 1977 catalogue raisonné “The Complete Van Gogh” Dr. Jan Hulsker quoted Picasso in the overleaf, who asked, “Why do the Dutch mourn for Rembrandt? They have Van Gogh.” Dr. Hulsker continued, “Indeed, for many people today van Gogh’s vibrant paintings, created in torment and struggle, are more meaningful and closer to their own concerns than are Rembrandt’s…”
Without detracting from the true mastery of Rembrandt, I heartily agree. And it is as true now as it was in 1888, 120 years ago…some 44,144 days have passed since Vincent sat with Eugène Boch and painted what he considered to be but a “first sketch” of a much grander portrait. Time is the Judge, however, for as Dr. Hulsker wrote, and to which I would not add a word, “There seems scarcely any reason to want a more finished version; the portrait as it stands ranks as one of the most personal and impressive works Vincent painted.”
Hence I feel I must ask, with a heavy heart—had Vincent known the impact his work would have on the world, would he have perhaps been able to stay his hand? If only for a short time.
Time enough, at the least, to find some peace of mind, some ease of the soul.
Letters 505, 531 & 546 revisited
Once, Vincent, you daydreamed into reality the portrait
of Eugène Boch, in Arles, during the autumn of 1888.
A ‘fellow artist’ you named him;
and wrote to Theo that—he dreams great dreams.
You wrote that he works as the nightingale sings:
because it is in his nature.
Compassionate, almost worried, you laid bare
his expression. Green eyes become hazel, keenly seeking…
You painted infinity for a background:
an azure void broken only by the palest
of argent and rose-gold stars.
Such beacons, like Spring blossoms
rising up from an ultramarine mind-field of muddy laments,
such stars burn clean through our hidden expectations—
Illuminating, and thus forever changing,
all that their delicate, eternal radiance falls upon.