Even before entering the Royal Academy of Arts, the banner on the scaffolding bearing a zillion carefully rendered strokes within a self portrait announced the presence of this exemplar virtuoso.
An unassailable fluency with pen and ink, a passion that was invincible and contagious, an embodiment of the creator himself, a reminder of the greater force and an appreciation for all creation, beautifully expressed by this prodigy almost gripped me into a squall for those three hours that I spent within the maroon, peacock blue, sea green and lilac lacquered walls of the main gallery at RAA.
'The Real Van Gogh', - revealed through the visual letters he wrote.
Probably, wrote and drew, as it would be unfair to leave out either.
Very aptly described at the onset of the exhibit, 'Vivid word pictures of a subject in nature or a work of art leap from the page'. His sketches, 'croquis' or scratches as he called them carried within them, the quintessence, the finesse and detail of the original chef-d'œuvre. His scratches were monumental relics and the letters he wrote to Theo (his brother) and Anthon (a close friend and artist) bore the intimacy of a child sharing his day with a parent.
"Now in these last four weeks..... here with, a few sketches of them"
"I've just come from there - and have worked on it further by lamplight - although this time I started it in daylight" (Letter 492)
He sent a few of his paintings rolled up to Anthon and wrote, "I'm enclosing a piece of grey paper with them - they'll show up better if you put them on that" (Letter 437)
Another letter along with a sepia scratch he sent to Theo,
"Do you remember in Tartarin, the complaint of the old Tarascon- That wonderful page?
Well, I've just painted that red and green carriage in the yard of the inn"
The scratch and the original painting of the carriage was surely one of the finest paintings I've seen.
Brilliant, vivid colours almost brought life into the carriage and it seemed like it would advance any second.
In one of the letters he wrote to Theo, (at the beginning of his career as an artist), he asked him to send a few ordinary brushes to pursue his self taught artistic studies. He described the size and type of the brushes he needed by actually drawing them. A great enthusiasm reflected in the description of the medium he used.
What really fascinated me was his detailed rendition in words of the little sketches in sepia which essentially characterised every letter he sent. Even though, the sketch was done in Indian ink - mono tone, most often sepia, he always made it a point to mention the colours that would appear in the final painting. As a reader, for me, this established almost another level of perception of the ultimate masterwork.
One of the letters he wrote to Theo (Letter 250 - 21 July, 1882), along with a sepia sketch describing his
prototype titled 'Rooftops' was:
'Over the red tiled roofs comes a flock of white pigeons flying between the black smoking chimneys. But behind this, an infinity of delicate, gentle green, miles and miles of flat meadow, and a grey as still... that the view over the ridges of the roofs and the gutters in which the grass grows, very early in the morning and the first signs of life and awakening - the bird on the wing, the chimney smoking, the figure far below ambling along'
This vivid and explicit narration with a mono tone sketch was adequate to almost picture his magnum opus with all miniscule details and colouration. An extraordinary and rare style in itself!
A self taught, perfectionist who believed in practicing hard until he got it right, consulted the standard drawing manuals. 'If one lacks that knowledge', he wrote to Theo, 'one will never give birth to anything'.
Through his self taught lessons, he hoped to achieve an echelon where his strokes followed the form, and
at the same time had the right balance of light and shade.
A very compassionate human being ("she caught my eye because she looked ill", Letter 224 to Theo with a portrait of Siem") who spent a third of his life with peasants in the Dutch landscape.
They formed an integral part of his early paintings.
'..diggers, sowers, ploughers....I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that's a part of a peasant's life"
"showing the figure of the peasant in action...that's .... the heart of modern art itself"
"His whole appearance has been shaped by working on land"
He wanted the heads of the peasants to look like they were"painted in soil"
He painted the thatched cottages in Brabant for which he bore great affection and described them as a 'reflection of the simple, honest peasants whose homes they were'
Vincent's strokes brimmed with life. They danced, tweaked, curled and expressed beautifully.
There were no masses, his paintings and scratches were all about abounding lines and strokes... each one of which had life. They swarmed together like a huge flock of bees in perfect harmony, depicting his subject extremely effectively. They reflected an inner restlessness, urge, aggression and passion within him.
A wunderkind, who lived a short life but produced a quantum as well as quality of work which probably has never been generated by a zillion other artists put together. His work, admiration for nature, perfection, passion, sensitivity, compassion and appreciation have truly inspired a zillion, me being one among those.
"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream"
Vincent Van Gogh