I have been a fan of the Dutch painter since I can remember. As a college student one of his lovely prints donned the wall of my apartment and was in my home for several years. Whenever I have had the chance I attended gallery openings with his paintings at the Art Institute in Chicago, my friend Linda and I usually make the trek to the Art Institute with great joy. Recently my friend Carol and I attended the Van Gogh Immersion in St. Louis. I loved it and as a farmer’s wife was struck by Van Gogh’s ag connection.
My husband Keith and I watched the PBS show about his life. It was interesting to read the panels at the Immersion. They reflected letters between Vincent and his brother Theo. I’ve never seen such a beautiful mixture of colors.
In a letter September 29, 1888, letter Van Gogh states something that hits home to me. “…I always think that what we need is sunshine and fine weather and blue air as the most dependable remedy.”
The connection with the soil
Seeing so many of his paintings in one place I realized his connection with farming and nature. Many of his paintings reflect the countryside. He held those that work in farming in high regard. In the book The World of Van Gogh he is quoted saying, “One must undertake with confidence, with a certain assurance that one is doing a reasonable thing, like the farmer who drives his plow… (one who) drags the harrow behind himself. If one hasn’t a horse, one is one’s own horse.”
There are many paintings that reflect his love of the country and he seemed like me, to find comfort in rural life.
Rosy hue of rural life
While Van Gogh loved the rural life he did seen to see it through rose colored glasses. A line from Van Gogh’s Progress: Utopia, Modernity, and Late-nineteenth-century Art had him reaching out to his brother to come paint with him. “Theo, be a painter, try to disentangle yourself and come to Drenthe… So boy, do come and paint with me on the heath, in the potato field, come and walk with me behind the plow and the shepherd — come and sit with me, looking into the fire — let the storm that blows across the heath blow through you. Break loose from your bonds… Don’t seek [the future] in Paris, don’t seek it in America; it is always the same, forever, and ever exactly the same. Make a thorough change indeed, try the heath.”
The ultimate poems in paint
At the Van Gogh Immersion there is a line that flashes on the wall. “…I plough on my canvases as they do in their fields.”
Is there anything more cyclical, more rhythmic and life giving and colorful than the growing of crops? If so I don’t know what it is. Van Gogh captures this beauty, this poetry and fragility of life and death in his work, especially I think his flowers which for a brief moment in time like his work bloom in a flurry of magnificence.
Vincent Van Gogh took his life. His story is not perhaps a happy one. He lived for his art, but how his art lives on like the cycle of crops from bloom to decay to rebirth we still enjoy his work from generation to generation. I find the agricultural connection the key.