I have had an interest in painting since my younger days. I never painted myself, nor could I draw or sketch, yet I was drawn into this branch of art. Perhaps it is because I had a poet’s mind or perhaps it is because I’m a reader who learned to imagine and read between the lines. Whatever the reason is, I enjoyed viewing them and forming my own interpretations, even though my idea of the painting vastly contradicted the idea of its author. In my twenties, I read about the different periods of art and famous artists and later, started visiting art galleries. This is the time when Van Gogh came across me. I have no understanding of paintings; I’m only an admirer. Yet Van Gogh’s paintings captured me from the onset. I think it is mainly due to the colors he used and also the expressions of his figures. There is such a real and humane touch to his paintings. Later on, I read of his life and I felt an immediate connection, a sort of an odd kinship with him. He was undervalued and misunderstood, something I could personally relate to. All these reasons made this selected collection of letters by Van Gogh a pleasurable read.
The letters, most written to his brother Theo Van Gogh, express Van Gogh’s thinking on life and art. They are profound. Notwithstanding what is thought of him, he wasn’t eccentric or anti-social. His isolation was a result of his devotion and dedication to his painting – his final chosen field. Through these letters, Van Gogh expresses in detail his perspective of contemporary and past renowned painters and their works. His attention is specifically fixed on the impressionists who he admired and who he wished would improve their style to suit modern times. He being a post-impressionist, he wanted the impressionists to break the barriers and expand their horizons.
Most of all, however, these letters are immensely valuable for they give a good insight into the artistic view of the painter. He was drawn by nature. The inspiration arose for him from everyday details of nature and human life. And he loved colour; bright and vivid colors. He was criticized for lack of a technique, so he worked on form and value more diligently. But it is the colourfulness of nature that inspired his art and compelled him to draw and paint. “It is impossible to attach the same importance both to values and colours. One cannot be at the Pole and at the Equator at once. One must choose one’s way, and my way is the road to colour.”
Apart from art, Van Gogh’s views on life are profound. He also talks of the lonely life of an artist but maintains that an isolated and solitary life is needed for a devoted artist. He was well aware of how he was viewed by society. “What I’m in the eyes of most people? A nonentity, or an oddity, or a disagreeable man, someone neither has nor ever will have any place in society. I should like to show by my work that the heart of such a nonentity, such an insignificant man, conceals.” . He was not resentful though. On the contrary as his own words say “what am I, but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and above all, of man.” Yes, Vincent, you were a true friend. Your words and your works are living proof of that.