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"The Sower" (1888) 

In a career lasting no more than ten years,  Vincent Van Gogh produced about 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. He often painted quickly, almost feverishly, once writing that "the emotions are so strong that one works without knowing one works". 

His best paintings were undoubtedly produced in the last 15 months of his life, which he spent in Arles, in the South of France, where he went to live in 1888, partly to recover his health after a breakdown in Paris and at nearby St Remy, where he spent a year in a mental asylum. During this intense period of prolific activity and increasing mental strain, Van Gogh managed to produce many of his best-known masterpieces. Indeed, in Arles alone he produced more than 200 paintings. It is a number that amounts to about a third of the total output of Paul Gauguin, his friend and fellow post-Impressionist. 

Among these 200 paintings are the iconic sunflowers, the simple straw-woven chair on which lay his comforting pipe and tob-acco pouch, the Night Café in the Place Lamartine in which the whole room looks as if seen through a drunken green and red haze and the walls appear to be collapsing inwards, his portrait of the matronly Madame Ginoux in her Arlesienne costume, its cloth intensely blue against the blazing yellow backdrop and The Sower, that bold, Japanese-print-inspired painting with its huge lemon-yellow sun and its Japanese-style tree. 

Many of these paintings can now be seen in an exhibition at the Royal Academy which attempts to separate the myth of the tortured genius from that of the thoughtful and dedicated artist he clearly must have been to produce such work, and in the sheer quantity in which he produced it. 

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and his Letters (until 18 April) features 65 paintings and 30 drawings, as well as 40 original letter-sketches that each refer to a finished work in the exhibition. In one letter-sketch on display, written to Théo, his younger, art-dealer brother and confidant, we see a detailed sketch of The Sower. Always keen to keep his brother informed of the paintings he was working on, Van Gogh adds a description of the colours he is using: "Here's a croquis [sketch] of the latest canvas I'm working on, another sower. Immense lemon yellow disc for the sun. Green-yellow sky with pink clouds. The field is violet, the sower and the tree Prussian Blue." 

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Pat Brien
February 18th, 2010
2:02 PM
I'm seeing a lot of plugs for a movie, 'The Eyes Of Van Gogh,'going on here. I don't mind, personally. Maybe StandPoint should make up for alleged article errors by reviewing it. Anything that's new and meaningful on Vincent Van Gogh is welcome; and Vincent's paintings look so good on big, glossy pages! C'mon StandPoint, review the guy's movie! I have no connection to it, by the way, but I'd like to know if it's worth seeing.

February 1st, 2010
5:02 PM
Seems to me anybody that cuts off his ear, enters an asylum, and utlitmately kills himself is tortured; however, he was a genius unequaled by most, and surpassed by few......if any!

January 27th, 2010
9:01 AM
It is highly likely that Vincent van Gogh was a womb twin survivor. He was very taken up with the cycle of life: he painted the sower, and the reaper. He painted wheat fields and connected the fruitfulness of the wheat grain to death. He sat in a wheatfield in full fruit and shot himself - he was himself at his most fruitful and then he died at his own hand. It is common among womb twin survivors to think about death a lot, even from a young age, and suicidal feelings in young womb twin survivors are also common. A womb twin survivor is the survivor of a twin pregnancy but one twin dies in the womb, leaving a sole survivor, who is fuelled with grief and pain which has something to do with loneliness and death but defies explanation. Such feelings haunt womb twin survivors, until they can at last find an explanation for their feelings and begin to come to terms with this loss. It is interesting that Vincent had such a close relationship with his brother Theo, whom he treated just like a twin, and it is also interesting that the method of suicide he chose was to shoot himself in the stomach not the head, so he was able to walk home and let everybody know that he would die soon, and then Theo could be there. To die in the arms of his brother would be like his Dream of the Womb revisited - here was unity and death, closeness and love and dying. Even to be alive was painful for Vincent. A tortured genius indeed.

January 17th, 2010
2:01 AM
" Many of them open and conclude with pleas to Théo for money " Edgar Allen Poe's letters to his stepfather do the same, often insulting him, and then asking for money. Reading both sets of letters is an intriguing exercise.

January 15th, 2010
2:01 AM
all the self righteous prim litle norms so PROUD of the mental mediocracy that passes for stability! van goghs description of Delacroix is apposite and not nonsensical but the medicore you know are that way because.......................

Alexander Barnett
January 14th, 2010
4:01 AM
Overall a well written and intelligent article. However there are several errors." His best paintings were produced in the last 15 months of his life which he spent in Arles where he went to live in 1888...and at nearby St. Remy where he spent a year at a mental institution." He spent 15 months in Arles[2/88 to 5/89] where he did indeed produce most of his best paintings, but the last 15 months of his life was spent at St.Remy[12 months] and Auvers sur Oise,[2 and a half months]. Vincent did some excellent work at St. Remy and nothing exceptional at auvers, so he did not produce his best work in his final 15 months. "Italian art didn't get a look-in' Not true.He referred several times to Raphael and several others whom he didn't care for, primarily because he found their work rather cold and because they were totally unable to depict workers who really worked. However, he absolutely adored Michaelangelo, because his figures depicted, not reality, but hyper reality. Regarding Theo's support of Vincent, I agree that vincent would never have been able to achieve what he did without his support, however, Vincent and Theo came to an agreement in 1882 whereby Theo would send Vincent money and in return he would get to keep all of Vincent's work and and do with it what he pleased. Certainly this was not a handout but reasonable recompense. Finally, the title of this article is totally misleading since there is nothing in it that indicates that Van Gogh was not a tortured soul.I invite anyone who has any doubts to see my just released film,'THE EYES OF VAN GOGH'.

January 13th, 2010
10:01 PM
All artists in any field have been exposed to influences, and we know what Van Gogh's were: Japan, art nouveau, impressionism, etc. But was there ever such a surprisingly original painter as Vincent?

January 13th, 2010
9:01 PM
CaRteR is absolutely right. Mental illness does not preclude the ability to reason and create.

January 13th, 2010
8:01 PM
as the previous respondent implies- it is rash to claim VVG wasn't a tortured soul- it's no casual thing to sever one's earlobe- nor is suicide- you also touch on his loneliness- it must've been incredibly intense- and he seemed too intense a character for most people to have patience with- people like small talk- that loneliness must've been agony

Ashley March
January 13th, 2010
6:01 PM
The author's observation that The letters reveal that "Van Gogh was not altogether the sensitive dreamer of popular myth. There was certainly something of the innocent soul about him, but he was also clearly irascible, brusque and plainly irritating" is certainly true. There is nothing in that statement, however, that contradicts or denies the intensity of his torment over the attacks he suffered and his despair over the failure of his work to sell. There is a film - The Eyes of Van Gogh - written and directed by Alexander Barnett, that precisely captures this duality. The official site for the film is

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