Flaming flo'rs that brightly blaze
Vincent's eyes of China blue.
Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Are soothed beneath the artist's
And now I understand what you tried to say to me
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen
They did not know how
Yesterday Ruth and I went to see the film Loving Vincent. As the name suggests, it is about Vincent Van Gogh, the troubled artist on the 19th century who is now one of the most famous painters of all time yet only sold a single canvas during his brief lifetime. The film is a murder mystery in a way, drawing on a body of scholarly speculation that Van Gogh was murdered -- or least died by misadventure -- rather than at his own hand. He was shot in the stomach and claimed that he had inflicted the mortal wound himself, yet the evidence didn't support this. The story of the film focuses on Vincent's last few days and a fictional man who comes to the village of Auvers Sur Oise to deliver a letter and stays to discover what actually transpired.
Loving Vincent is beautiful and innovative because it is animated, even though human actors are involved. They are portrayed by thousands of hand-painted images which evoke the colours and brush style of Van Gogh, which were then given life for the screen. Many of Vincent's best-known paintings are incorporated into the narrative.
We loved the film, but a few things occurred to me after we left the theatre. We aren't told that Van Gogh wandered the countryside painting as a sort of day-release program from the mental hospital where he spent time at the end of his life. Vincent found solace in the pleine air experience of painting outdoors. He wasn't just an odd man, he was seriously mentally ill, and the doctor who provided care was enlightened enough to realize that creativity, solitude, and the beauty of the natural world were medicinal for his patient.
I've written before that Van Gogh was a spiritual person, although he careened back and forth between piety which was sometimes sentimental, and angry atheism. He studied for the ministry but he was not at all suitable for this vocation. It was not just because he failed exams, as the film suggests. People found him incomprehensible from the pulpit and he could not relate to his parishioners. That'll put a quick end to aspirations for a student minister.
Van Gogh was more of a nature mystic whose paintings were alive with the energy of creation. Recently careful examination of one of his works revealed grasshopper embedded in the textured impasto of his paint. I found this revelation touching, a tribute to his wild, unfettered love of the world around him. The grasshopper might have another interpretation.
Have you seen Loving Vincent? How did you feel as you walked away? Do you experience his paintings as a spiritual expression of Creation?
Listen to Lianne La Havas' lovely version of Starry, Starry Night featured in the film.