Marginalia: In the Steps of Van Gogh – Important Places in His Life
Most people know Van Gogh as an extraordinary and troubled artist. He was also quite the writer and storyteller, as his letters to family and friends show. I’ve mentioned these before.
Both from his paintings and his letters, you get a sense that this man was deeply moved by the world around him — whether a little room in the yellow house in Arles, a farming couple resting under a tree in a field, cypress trees in the countryside or the many irises and sunflowers in different settings.
Even though these places might be very different today from how they looked during his time there, this Van Gogh Footsteps tour has long been on my travel wishlist.
Consider this description from his time in Isleworth, England, in a letter to his brother, Theo. Vincent was only 23 years old and, by then, had already tried a few professions and given up on them. Here, he was now teaching the Bible at Holme Court House, a private boarding school run by Reverend Slade-Jones, a non-conformist minister. Van Gogh was so poor that he had to walk to Isleworth from Ramsgate, where the school had been previously, and that took 3 days. This brief time (till about Christmas that year) was the only time Vincent Van Gogh was in England. He never returned. Although, his love for English literature, particularly Dickens, stayed with him his entire life.
Last Wednesday afternoon, we took a lovely walk to a village an hour away from here. The road there goes through meadows and fields, along hedgerows of hawthorn full of blackberries and clematis and, here and there, a tall elm tree. It was so beautiful when the sun went down behind the grey clouds and when the shadows were long, and we chanced to meet Mr Stokes’s school, where there are still several boys I know.
The clouds kept their red glow long after the sun had set and the twilight was gathering over the fields, and, in the distance, we saw the street-lamps being lit in the village. This morning, there was also a beautiful sunrise. I see it every morning when I wake the boys up.
And, there are many such descriptions of other places, even more beautifully-written when they are about scenes that moved him enough to eventually capture in paintings. I think that the letters were also a way for him to commit images to memory till he was ready to start painting them.
For being such a troubled soul during his own lifetime, his letters and paintings have always been a source of joy and calm to me. Take a look at some of these stunning close-ups of his works.
Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and literary critic. She is a Contributing Editor (Books) at PopMatters. Her short story collection, Each of Us Killers, will be out in September 2020. Her literary translation of Dhumketu's (Gujarati writer) short stories will be out in late-2020. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in various respectable journals in the US, UK, and India, including The Atlantic, BBC Culture, Literary Hub, Longreads, The Millions, Scroll.in, PopMatters, and others. Her fiction has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and the 2017 Best American Short Stories. She was a finalist for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. Having lived and worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now splits her time between Atlanta, Georgia, USA and Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Find her at: https://indiatopia.com/about-2/.
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