Van Gogh and Gauguin are two of the most colourful artists of the 19th century who still remain firm favourites today. On 1 July, Jacqueline Coburn, visiting UK art historian, gave an illuminating insight into the complexities of their lives, and how for a few short months, their lives interacted.  She used slides of paintings by both men and drew on  diary entries and Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo to illustrate her talk.

Van Gogh(1853-1890), Dutch born, described his childhood as ‘gloomy, cold and sterile’, which is a contrast to the vibrancy and colour of his adult painting. Van Gogh had complex psychological problems throughout his life. As an artist he had very little formal training, but he believed a painting should speak to you: he said of the “Potato Eaters”(1885) that the workers in the painting  ‘have dug the earth with the self same hands they are putting in the dish’ .   By contrast to the sombreness of his early work, the change into explosions of colour  occurred as a result of his move to Paris and then to the south of France, where he was influenced by the work of Gauguin and other artists. Van Gogh uses colour to give you the sensation he wants to evoke –‘The Sunflowers’(1885), an extraordinary exercise in yellow, is an illustration of this.

Van Gogh became friends with Gauguin during their time in Paris.  From September to December 1885 they moved together to the  Yellow House in Arles in the south of France. Here after 9 weeks the two men fall out, the relationship ending in confrontation – cf Van Gogh’s self portrait with a severed ear. The two men parted and did not meet again.

Gauguin(1850-1903), French-born, had a more affluent early life than Van Gogh, spending time in Peru before returning to Paris at the age of 17, where he worked for a time as a stockbroker, then as a full-time painter. Following the break-up of his relationship with Van Gogh in the south of France, Gauguin sought to find an idyllic life, and returned several times to live and paint in the South Seas, Tahiti and finally the Marquesas where he died in 1903. His paintings during this time were characterized by vibrant colour and were a reflection of Tahitian and other South Seas’ cultures, including many of local women.

This was a very knowledgable and insightful  presentation of two very different men, their art, their lives, and their relationship – we were fortunate to have experienced a lecture of this calibre.

 

Diana Halsted