When we remove the patina from the modern portrait of Vincent van Gogh, we see a very different character. Van Gogh was bright, erudite, and well-educated. He was not at all the “mad artist” we have assumed from the “myth” of his misunderstood history.
I have been tracking the ideal that van Gogh conceived, characterizing Jesus as the ultimate artist.
In a Letter to Emil Bernard on June 26,1988 van Gogh wrote, “Christ alone, of all the philosophers, magicians, etc., has affirmed eternal life as the most important certainty, the infinity of time, the futility of death, the necessity and purpose of serenity and devotion. He lived serenely, as an artist greater than all other artists, scorning marble and clay and paint, working in the living flesh. In other words, this peerless artist, scarcely conceivable with the blunt instrument of our modern, nervous and obtuse brains, made neither statues nor paintings nor books. He maintained in no uncertain terms that he made…living men, immortals.”
This letter was written a year before van Gogh checked into the asylum in Saint-Remy France. He checked himself in for sleep disorders and fits. The latest information points to chronic sleeplessness due to a combination of genetic epilepsy and brain damage from absinthe abuse.
The next day, in a subsequent letter , written on June 27, 1988 to Emil , van Gogh wrote, “there is only this kernel, Christ — who, from the point of view of art, seems superior to me — at any rate something other — than Greek, Indian, Egyptian, Persian antiquity, which went so far. Now I say it again — this Christ is more of an artist than the artists — he works in living spirit and flesh, he makes men instead of statues, so….. as a painter I feel good being an ox …. and I admire the bull, the eagle, the man,with a veneration — which — will prevent my being a man of ambition.”
Emil Bernard was a post impressionist painter and a friend of van Gogh’s. He was also a friend with Cezanne, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec.