In the Goodreads challenge I am joining Mona Lisa in a race against the clock. It’s not going very well, I think and one of the reasons I quit the daily blogs is giving myself the time to do what I like best and that is finding a quiet spot somewhere and get lost in a book. When I read I read with all my heart. I like the public library. Not that the public libraries in the Netherlands are good (they are not), but at some floors it is quiet. And so I take my book there or my Ipet and spend a happy afternoon reading…
You might remember I lost the 1963 Goodreads challenge and was supposed to read “the Letters of Vincent van Gogh”, a selection of his letters published in 1963
It took me an awful long time to finish this book. Granted, it is a thick book, but I like thick books, more pages, the better. So why did it take me such a long time? It is a combination of two things really. One is I should not have read in in English as it it in Dutch for sale as well. In translation some of the feelings are lost I think. The second is I should never have bought an e-book. Pictures do look different on paper than on a screen. And I’m trying so hard to find excuses why I don’t care for this book. I feel a bit guilty, I should like it. I love art, so I should like this book. What is wrong with me that I don’t like it?
Admire as much as you can, most people don’t admire enoughVincent van Gogh, letter to Theo, January 1874
Maybe it is because the impressionists is not my kind of art. Manet is the only one I truly like. Gauguin is hideous and still a close friend to Vincent van Gogh. “I have two beds, one for me and one for Gauguin if he stays over, van Gogh wrote in a letter. Maybe it is because it is a selection of the letters and not all the letters. Maybe it is because all the letters his four year old younger brother Theo are not in the book, so the book is a one way conversation…
Some people think Vincent was a good writer too. To me he is not. His letters are full of references we do not know, endless talk of colours and details of his painting. But never about the man himself. In his best period in Paris where he made some of his most famous paintings I’m reading he moved in with Theo so obviously there was no reason to write. In the end where he admitted himself to a mental hospital because of his depression, the writings go on and on about:
“Hirschig is beginning to get a better idea of things, it seems to me. He has done a portrait of an old schoolmaster, who has given him a “well done”. And then he has some landscape studies which are almost the same colour as the Konings at your place. They may turn out to be just like these, or like the things by Voerman we saw together. Goodbye for now, keep well and good luck in business etc., remember me to Jo and handshakes in thought,
Vincent.”Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo, 24 July 1890
This is how the last letter in the book ends. Really. On July 26th Van Gogh shot himself twice in the chest and died in his brothers arms a few days later.
As you can see, the original letters are lovely to look at. The handwriting in Dutch and French are sometimes hard to read, but so are my own handwritten letters. It is the never ending details about the painters or paintings I do not know (and do not want to know either for that matter) that made it so difficult to read.
Why go on?
Why did you not put the book away and read another book, if you didn’t like it? you would ask.
Two reasons really. The first is there are some nice lines hidden between all those details and every day misery of his existence. I liked:
Ah, my dear brother, sometime I know so well what I want. I can well do without God in both my life and also in my painting, but, suffering as I am, I cannot do without something greater than myself, something which is my life – the power to create. And if, deprived of physical power, one tries to create thoughts instead of children, one is still very much part of humanity. And in my pictures I want to say something consoling, as music does. I want to paint men and women with a touch of eternal, whose symbol was once the halo, which we try to convey by the very radiance and vibrancy of our colouring.”Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo, 3 september 1888
So there are gems somewhere if you have the patience to find them. The second reason I wanted to read on was more mundane: I knew how his life ended so I wanted to know if it could be found in his letters as well.
I give the book a 2 out of 10 points. And I should have given more. Because I love art, even Van Gogh’s art. I love reading letters. And yet, I would not have been honest to give more points.
I end this post, like Van Gogh did most of his letters:
With a handshake,