We rented a movie recently after studying our KONOS “Eyes and Seeing” unit study – which included a brief side-study on painting and artists. We just got around to watching the video last night, however. I was moved to see the scenes that might have accompanied Vincent Van Gogh’s travels in his lifetime and to hear his own letters narrated. The children only watched a portion of this video. It was a little deep for elementary kids and had a portion where he talked of lusts he had for wanting a woman. His descent into madness seems to have followed a complete break-down of his faith in God and a passionate turn into fleshly behaviors. The story is plainly there; strung along through tears and misery throughout his lucid letters to his favorite person, his brother Theo. While his spiritual death did not surprise me (because of his violent choice to commit suicide), it made me so very sad for him… for his father… his brother… his mother. I do not think I will ever look upon his works in the same way, and most assuredly, I will pray for him whenever I remember it… as I do for others that have gone on before me into the after-life. I know what the Bible says about our lives being our one and only chance – once we are gone, our choice has been made. My hope is that because God is god of both the living and the dead, He can heal the madness of this man and make him stand regardless. After all, there were those moments after the gunshot that he remained alive with Theo at his side.
I have been consumed by reading through the letters myself after watching the “documentary” and would like to share with you a few quotes from Vincent’s letters… to illustrate the fall that he took in such a short career… and to keep them here where I collect all the things that matter to me. Vincent’s Starry Night hangs in my bedroom. Now his letters to Theo are kept here in my blog. It is amazing how God puts people in your path and on your heart. For whatever reason, Van Gogh has been on mine the last two days. I am glad that we followed this little rabbit trail into art history as part of our “seeing” unit on the senses. It gave me a deeper understanding of this man’s troubled life. Some “side-tracks” are worth the extra time you spend on them.
Letter 039b (to Theo his brother)
Paris, 27 September 1875
Narrow is the path which leadeth unto life, and those that find it are few. Struggle to enter by the narrow gate, for many will seek to enter, and will not be able [see Matt. 7:14]. My brother, let us be prudent; let us ask of Him Who is on high, Who also prayeth for us, that He take us not away from the world, but that he preserve us from evil. Yea, let us be sober, and watch, let us trust in God, and not lean upon our intellect. Let us ask of Him that He force us to come in; that He enable us to fulfill a Christian’s life; that He teach us to deny ourselves, to take our cross every day and follow after Him; to be gentle, long-suffering and lowly of heart. A part that shall not be taken away, a spring of living water, springing into Life eternal [see Luke 10:42; John 4:13], these are the good gifts that the Hearer of prayers, the Giver of all perfect gifts, will give unto those who pray unto Him. …Yet a Christian’s life has its dark side too, it is principally man’s work. For those that walk with God, God’s friends, God’s pious ones, those who worship him in Spirit and in Truth, are tried and purified, and often have received from God a thorn in the flesh; blessed shall we be, if we can repeat after our father, Paul: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, but now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things, and am I become, and God hath made me sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Write soon and give my regards to all acquaintances, and believe me
Your loving brother, Vincent
Letter 079 (to Theo his brother)
31 October 1876
When I was standing in the pulpit, I felt like somebody who, emerging from a dark cave underground, comes back to the friendly daylight. It is a delightful though that in the future wherever I go, I shall preach the Gospel; to do that well, one must have the Gospel in one’s heart. May the Lord give it to me. You know enough of life, Theo, to understand that a poor preacher stands rather alone in the world, but the Lord can increasingly rouse in us the consciousness and belief in “… yet I am not alone, because the Father is within me. …
I know to Whom I commit myself;
Though the day and night may alternate,
I know the rock on which I build;
He Who awaits my salvation will not fail me.
[below is a portion of a long sermon also enclosed in this same letter, which he gave on 29 Oct. 1876 and wrote down for Theo]
Psalm 119:19. ‘I am a stranger on earth, hide not Thy commandments from me.’
It is an old belief and it is a good belief, that our life is a pilgrim’s progress – that we are strangers on the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to Heaven. The beginning of this life is this: there is only one who remembereth no more her sorrow and her anguish for joy that a man is born into the world. She is our Mother. The end of pilgrimage is the entering in Our Father’s house, where are many mansions, where He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. The end of this life is what we call death – it is an hour in which words are spoken, things are seen and felt, that are kept in the secret chambers of the hearts of those who stand by, – it is so that all of us have such things in our hearts or forebodings of such things. There is sorrow in the hour when a man is born into the world, but also joy, deep and unspeakable, thankfulness so great that it reaches the highest heavens. Yes the Angels of God, they smile, they hope and they rejoice when a man is born in the world. There is sorrow in the hour of death, but there is also joy unspeakable when it is the hour of death of one who has fought a good fight. There is one who has said: I am the resurrection and the life, if any man believe in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live. There was an apostle who heard a voice from heaven saying: Blessed are they that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labour and their works follow them. There is joy when a man is born in the world, but there is greater joy when a spirit has passed through great tribulation, when an angel is born in Heaven. Sorrow is better than joy – even in mirth the heart is sad – and it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasts, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. Our nature is sorrowful, but for those who have learnt and are learning to look at Jesus Christ, there is always reason to rejoice. It is a good word that of St. Paul: as being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope – no despair – there is only a constantly being born again, a constantly going from darkness into light. They do not mourn as those who have no hope – Christian Faith makes life to evergreen life. We are pilgrims on the earth and strangers – we come from afar and we are going far. The journey of our life goes from the loving breast of our Mother on earth to the arms of our Father in heaven. Everything on earth changes – we have no abiding city here – it is the experience of everybody. That it is God’s will that we should part with what is dearest on earth – we ourselves change in many respects, we are not what we once were, we shall not remain what we are now. From infancy we grow up to boys and girls – young men and women – and if God spares us and helps us, to husbands and wives, Fathers and Mothers in our turn, and then, slowly but surely the face that once had the early dew of morning, gets its wrinkles, the eyes that once beamed with youth and gladness speak of a sincere deep and earnest sadness, though they may keep the fire of Faith, Hope and Charity – though they may beam with God’s spirit. The hair turns grey or we lose it – ah – indeed we only pass through the earth, we only pass through life, we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. The world passes and all its glory. Let our later days be nearer to Thee, and therefore better than these.
Yet we may not live on casually hour by hour – no we have a strife to strive and a fight to fight. What is it we must do: we must love God with all our strength, with all our might, with all our soul, we must love our neighbours as ourselves. These two commandments we must keep, and if we follow after these, if we are devoted to this, we are not alone, for our Father in Heaven is with us, helps us and guides us, gives us strength day by day, hour by hour, and so we can do all things through Christ who gives us might. We are strangers on earth, hide not Thy commandments from us. Open Thou our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. Teach us to do Thy will and influence our hearts that the love of Christ may constrain us and that we may be brought to do what we must do to be saved.
On the road from earth to Heaven
Do Thou guide us with Thine eye;
We are weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold us with Thy powerful hand.
Our life, we might compare it with a journey, we go from place to place where we were born to a far-off haven. Our earlier life might be compared to sailing on a river, but very soon the waves become higher, the wind more violent, we are at sea almost before we are aware of it – and the prayer from the heart ariseth to God: Protect me O God, for my bark is so small and Thy sea is so great. The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, its tides, its depths …. Let us not fear the storms of life, amidst the high waves of the sea and under the grey clouds of the sky we shall see Him approaching, for whom we have so often longed and watched, Him we need so – and we shall hear His voice: It is I, be not afraid. … We want to know that we are Thine and that Thou art ours, we want to be Thine – to be Christians – we want a Father, a Father’s love and a Father’s approval. May the experience of life make our eye single and fix it on Thee. May we grow better as we go on in life. We have spoken of the storms on the journey of life but let us now speak of the calms and joys of Christian life. …Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.
The heart that is fainting
May grow full to overflowing
And they that behold it
Shall wonder and know not
That God at its fountains
Far off has been raining.
My peace I leave with you – we saw how there is peace even in the storm. Thanks be to God, who has given us to be born and live in a Christian country. Has any one of us forgotten the golden hours of our early days at home, and since we left home – for many of us have had to leave that home and to earn their living and to make their way in the world. …I still feel the rapture, the thrill of joy I felt when for the first time I cast a deep look in the lives of my Parents, when I felt by instinct how much they were Christians. And I still feel that feeling of eternal youth and enthusiasm wherewith I went to God saying: “I will be a Christian too.” Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth. The old eternal faith and love of Christ, it may sleep in us but is not dead and God can revive it in us. But though to be born again to eternal life, to the life of Faith, Hope and Charity, – and to an evergreen life – to the life of a Christian and a Christian workman, be a gift of God, a work of God – and of God alone, yet let us put the hand to the plough on the field of our heart, let us cast out our net once more – let us try once more. God knows the intention of the spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, for He made us and not we ourselves. He knows what things we have need. He knows what is good for us. May He give us His blessing on the seed of His word, that He has sown in our hearts. God helping us, we shall get through life. With every temptation he will give a way to escape. Father we pray Thee not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but we pray The to keep us from evil. Give us neither poverty nor riches, feed us with bread convenient for us. And let Thy songs be our delight in the houses of our pilgrimage. God of our Fathers be our God: may their people be our people, their faith our faith.
Letter 073 (to Theo his brother)
18 August 1876
I often teach the boys Bible history, and last Sunday morning, I read the Bible with them. Every morning and evening we read the Bible and sing hymns and pray. And that is a good thing. We also go to Ramsgate. While these twenty-one boys of the London streets and markets pray ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread’, I imagine the cry of a young crow which the Lord hears, and it did me good to pray with them and to bow my head lower than they probably did at the words, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Letter 074 (to Theo his brother)
16 August 1876
Every day we study the Bible; thus gives us the best feelings of joy. … No day passes without praying to God and without talking about Him. For the moment, my talks about him leave much to be desired, but it will get better with His help and blessing. … I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed. I want – to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel these bonds. To be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. To live in Christ, to be one of the poor of His Kingdom, steeped in the leaven, filled with His spirit, impelled by His Love, reposing in the Father with the repose of which I wrote to you in my last letter. To become one who finds repose in Him alone, who desires nothing but Him on earth, and who abides in the Love of God and Christ, in whom we are fervently bound to one another.
Letter 098 (to Theo his brother)
30 May 1877
… if we are tired isn’t it then because we have already walked a long way, and if it is true that man has his battle to fight on earth, is not then the feeling of weariness and the burning of the head a sign that we have been struggling? When we are working at a difficult task and strive after a good thing we fight a righteous battle, the direct reward of which is that we are kept from much evil. And God sees the trouble and the sorrow and He can help in spite of all. The faith in God is firm in me – it is no imagination, no idle faith – but it is so, it is true, there is a God Who is alive and He is with our parents and His eye is also upon us, and I am sure He plans our life and we do not quite belong to ourselves as it were – and this God is no other than Christ of Whom we read in our Bible and Whose word and history is also deep in our heart.
Letter 101a (to Theo his brother)
9 July 1877
…with all my heart I hope that she will not be disappointed, but that, with God’s guidance, she may have found the road toward enduring happiness. May the Lord grant that she might find rest, that dearest sister, and may He bless her, and give her all good things in life.
(Anderson – translation of the whole stanza)
Every night the moon came, whispering to me
What she had seen in the silent, silent night
From her high observatory in the heavens;
She who remembers the ages – she wandered on
High above the foam of the deluge, and shone
On the floating ark with a gentle silvery glow,
As she does now on my solitary window.
And also, when Israel with overflowing eyes
Bowed down by Babylon’s streams,
With a sad luster she cast her rays
Onto the stringless harp hanging on the willows.
The moon is still shining and the sun and the evening star, which is a good thing – and they also often speak of the Love of God, and make one thing of the words: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’
Letter 111 (to Theo his brother)
21 October 1877
I should like to read more widely, but I must not; in fact. I need not wish it so much, for all things are in the word of Christ – more perfect and more beautiful than in any other book.
Letter 161 (to Theo his brother)
23 November 1881
Alas, previously when I declared that I would not continue with my study in Amsterdam, and later in the Borinage when I refused to do what the clergymen there wanted me to do, Father said something similar. So there is indeed a lasting deep-rooted misunderstanding between Father and myself. And I believe that it never can be quite cleared up. But on both sides we can respect each other because we agree in so many things, though sometimes we have quite different – aye, even opposite – views. … There really are no more unbelieving and hard-hearted and worldly people than clergymen and especially clergymen’s wives (a rule with exceptions). But even clergymen sometimes have a human heart under three layers of steel armour. …This summer I read a little book he [Van Gogh’s Uncle Stricker] had just published on the “minor prophets” and a few of the other less known books in the Bible. … For indeed, of all powers it is the most powerful [love] – it makes us dependant in appearance only; the truth is, there is no real independence, no real liberty, no steady self-reliance, except through Love. I say, our sense of duty is sharpened and our work becomes clear to us through Love; and in loving and fulfilling the duties of love we perform God’s will. In the Bible it is not written in vain, “Love will cover a multitude of sins” [see 1 Pet. 4:8], and again, “In Thee O God will be mercy, that Thou wilt be feared” [see Ps. 130:4]. But I think you will derive more profit from reading Michelet than from the Bible. … You must not be astonished when, even at the risk of your taking me for a fanatic, I tell you that in order to love, I think it absolutely necessary to believe in God. To believe in God (that does not mean you should believe all the sermons of the clergymen and the arguments and Jesuitism of the “begueules devotes collet monte” [bigoted, genteel prudes], (far from it); to me, to believe in God is to feel that there is a God, not dead or stuffed but alive, urging us toward aimer encore with irresistible force – that is my opinion.
Letter 164 (to Theo his brother)
21 December 1881
I really do love Father and Mother, but it is quite a different feeling from the one I have for you or M. Father can’t feel for or sympathize with me, and I can’t settle into Father’s and Mother’s system, it is too stifling and would suffocate me. Whenever I tell Father anything, it goes in one ear and out the other, and that certainly applies no less to Mother, and similarly I find Father and Mother’s sermons and ideas about God, people, morality and virtue a lot of stuff and nonsense….But I really don’t care for all that twaddle about good and evil, morality and immorality. For to be sure, I find it impossible always to tell what is good and what is bad, what is moral and what is immoral.
One cannot forgo a woman for too long with impunity. And I do not believe that what some call God and others the supreme being and others nature, is unreasonable and pitiless, in short I came to the conclusion: I want to see whether I can find a woman. And my goodness, I didn’t have to look all that far. I found a woman. …. Did we spend much money? No, because I didn’t have much, and I said to her, “Look here, you and I don’t have to make ourselves drunk to feel something for each other, you had best put what I can spare in your pocket.” And I wish I could have spared more, for she was worth it. ….. The clergymen call us sinners, conceived and born in sin. Bah! What confounded nonsense that is. Is it a sin to love, to feel the need for love, not to be able to live without love? I consider life without love a sinful and immoral state. If there is anything to regret then it is that period when I allowed mystical and theological profundities to mislead me into withdrawing too much into myself. I have gradually come to change my mind. …And I don’t think it ever occurs to her that God may only appear once we say the words, those words with which Multatuli ends his prayer of an unbeliever, “Oh God, there is no God.” You see, for me, that God of the clergy is as dead as a doornail. But does that make me an atheist? Clergymen consider me one – que soit – but you see, I love, and how could I feel love if I were not alive myself or if others were not alive, and if we are alive there is something wondrous about it. Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God.
In the same letter as above, Vincent calls Christianity “clinging to old and dead ideas”. It is evident that his search for “knowledge” and his “worship” of nature (Creation rather than Creator) has moved his heart from the light to the darkness. It is ever present in his life’s circumstance, his habits, and eventually his madness that the “Faith, Hope and Charity” – and even the “Love” he so desired to emulate all disintegrated as did eventually, his will to live. It is sad that he stood out on his parent’s faith and never found the wings to soar on his own. This is one of the reasons we need to allow our children to experience hardships and failures to learn and grow from… not to protect them from every sorrow or want. In our lives through this past few years of financial difficulties, we have had to all sacrifice and give up luxuries that some may label necessities. There have been days when we couldn’t go get groceries for a few days until payday. My children have had to share a bedroom in a two bedroom apartment, and we have had to suffer being hundreds of miles away from our family and half of our belongings. When I see my children thriving in spite of our “light and momentary sufferings”, I can only hope that one day, UNLIKE Vincent, they will stand at the cliff of decision and learn that they have wings of their own to carry them heavenward.
Letter 166 (to Theo his brother)
29 December 1881
On Christmas Day I had a violent scene with Father, and it went so far that Father told me I had better leave the house. Well, he said it so decidedly that I actually left the same day. The real reason was that I did not go to church, and also that if going to church was compulsory and if I was forced to go, I certainly should never go again out of courtesy, as I had done rather regularly all the time I was in Etten. But oh, in truth there was much more at the back of it all, including the whole story of what happened this summer between Kee and me. I do not remember ever having been in such a rage in all my life. I frankly said that I thought their whole system of religion horrible…
Letter 345 (to Theo his brother)
6 December 1883
Father does not know remorse like you and me and any man who is human. Father believes in his own righteousness, whereas you and I and other human creatures are imbued with the feeling that we consist of errors and efforts of the lost souls. I commiserate with people like Father – in my heart of hearts I cannot be angry with him – because I think they are more unhappy than I. Why do I think them unhappy? – because the good within them is wrongly applied so that it acts like evil because the light within them is black and spreads darkness, obscurity around them.
Letter 345a (to Theo his brother)
7-8 December 1883
Indirectly, however, I touched upon the matter; I told Father and Mother that in my opinion it was seriously wrong that a certain moment, two years ago, I was forced to leave the house. I said that for me this not only brought about considerable financial trouble, but also that it drove me to extremes, and that I was forced into a much more stubborn attitude than I should have adopted of my own free will. …At the moment I am right under Father’s nose – I see, I hear, I feel what Father is, and I do not approve of it, decidedly not – if you are like that and getting more and more like it, then it would be wise to part company. Now to revert to the fact that I told Father it was wrong two years ago we quarreled so violently that I was locked out of the house afterward (it does not matter so much whose fault it was – it would have been according to Father’s own principles – if he had been consistent – to avoid this quarrel at all costs). And what does Father say to this? – “Yes, but I cannot take back anything of what I did then; what I have done I have always done for your own good, and I have always followed my sincere conviction.” To this I replied that it may happen that a person’s conviction is completely at variance with conscience; I mean, what one thinks one should do may be diametrically opposed to what one ought to do. …Father tried to divert my reasoning and confuse the issue, and to prevent my pursuing the subject. But I did not allow myself to be diverted, and I said, “Pa, here I am faced by your self-righteousness, which was and is fatal, for you as well as for me.” Then Father said, “Do you expect me to kneel before you?” …Look, brother, in my opinion Father is forever lapsing into narrow-mindedness, instead of being bigger, more liberal, broader and more humane. It was clergyman’s vanity that carried things to extremes at the time; and it is still that same clergyman’s vanity that will cause more disasters now and in the future. I do not beg for your mediation, I do not beg for anything personal on your part; but I ask you point-blank how we stand – are you a “Van Gogh” too? I have always looked at you as “Theo”. In character I am rather different from the various members of the family, and essentially I am not a “Van Gogh”. If you become a “personality” – if you were going to play a part in the world – like Father or C.M. or even V. – all right, I should not try to interfere, I should take you at your own valuation. I should be silent about it; but our ways would diverge so much that I should not think it advisable to continue our financial relations. I hope you will understand what I want to express. If not, you’ll have to give it time. Who knows whether in the course of the next three years you will not come to look upon certain questions the way I do. Why? Because you will be influenced by art and intercourse with artists, and, in short, in consequence you will get to be bigger and broader instead of smaller and narrower.
Letter 358 (to Theo his brother)
1 March 1884
Apart from a few years which I can scarcely comprehend myself, when I was confused by religious ideas, by some kind of mysticism – that period aside, I have always lived with a certain warmth. Now everything is getting grimmer and colder and more dreary around me. … I still remember taking you to Roosendaal station that first year and telling you then that I was so set against being alone that I would sooner be with a bad whore than be alone… When it came to that business with the woman, you also had your way, and it came to an end, but… I’m damned if I’ll practice morality in order to get a little bit of money. Yet in itself I do not think it was absurd of you to disapprove when I wanted to go through with it last summer. But I can foresee the following in the future; I shall again have a relationship with someone from what you people call the lower orders – and, should I still have a relationship with you, meet with the same opposition.
Letter 378 (to Theo his brother)
As for this particular woman, it remains a mystery how it will turn out, but neither she nor I will do anything stupid. I am afraid that the old religion will once again benumb her and freeze her with that damnable icy coldness that broke her once before, many years ago, to the point of death. Oh, I am no friend of Christianity, though its Founder was sublime – I have seen through present-day Christianity only too well. That icy coldness hypnotized even me, in my youth – but I have taken my revenge since then. How? By worshiping the love which they, the theologians, call sin by respecting a whore, etc.. and not too many would-be respectable, pious ladies.
Letter 565 (to Theo his brother)
23 December 1888
I think myself that Gaugin was a little out of sorts with the good town of Arles, the little yellow house where we work; and especially me.
Gaugin, Vincent’s painter friend who lived with him briefly in Arles, had written to Theo that Vincent and he could not go on living together “in consequence of incompatibility of temper.” The day after the above letter was sent to Theo by Vincent, (December 24) a telegram was sent to Theo from Gaugin which called Theo to his brother’s side. According to the note by Jo (Theo’s wife) on this letter explaining the event, “Vincent, in a state of terrible and high fever, had cut off a piece of his own ear and taken it as present to a woman in a brothel. There had been a violent scene; Roulin the postman managed to get him home, but the police intervened, found Vincent bleeding and unconscious in bed, and sent him to the hospital. Theo found him there, “poor fighter and poor poor sufferer” and stayed over Christmas.” Vincent’s bouts of temper, frenzied arguments and actions, and poor lifestyle choices and habits were destroying him. He was inwardly lonely and miserable. His painting became everything to him, and he began to truly show signs of madness.
Letter 579 (to Theo his brother)
19 March 1889
I write to you in the full possession of my faculties, and not as a madman, but as the brother you know. This is the truth. A certain number of people here (there were more than 80 signatures) addressed a petition to the Mayor (I think his name is M. Tardieu), describing me as a man not fit to be at liberty, or something like that. The commissioner of police or the chief commissioner then gave the order to shut me up again. …If I did not restrain my indignation, I should at once be thought a dangerous lunatic. Let us hope and have patience. Besides, strong emotion can only aggravate my case. That is why I beg you for the present to let things be without meddling. Take it as a warning from me that it might only complicate and confuse things. All the more because you will understand that, while I am absolutely calm at the present moment, I may easily relapse into a state of overexcitement on account of fresh mental emotion. So you understand what a staggering blow between the eyes it was to find so many people here cowardly enough to join together against one man, and that man ill. … They pester me because of my smoking and eating. But what’s the use? After all, with all their sobriety, they only cause me fresh misery. …My house has been closed by the police.
Vincent went in and out of jail, hospitals and asylums. Most of the time he was allowed to still paint and had some outside time. He seemed from his letters to be in fear of relapse from his fragile mental state, very much alone and depressed, and stated that he believed he would never become famous and that his art would amount to nothing. The self portrait above was painted in late August of 1889, the year before his death.
Letter 585 (to Theo his brother)
22 April 1889
And temporarily I wish to remain shut up as much for my own peace of mind as for other people’s. What comforts me a little is that I am beginning to consider madness as a disease like any other… Meanwhile you do understand that if alcohol has undoubtedly been one of the great causes of my madness, then it came on very slowly and will go away slowly too, assuming it does go, of course. Or the same thing if it comes from smoking. But I should only hope that it – this recovery [probably a word has been omitted here] the frightful superstition of some people on the subject of alcohol, so that they prevail upon themselves never to drink or smoke.
Letter 587 (to Theo his brother)
25 – 28 April 1889
Isn’t Renan’s Christ a thousand times more comforting than so many papier mache Christs that they serve up to you in the Duval establishments called Protestant, Roman Catholic or something or other churches?
Letter 649 (to Theo his brother)
10 July 1890
I often think of the little one, I don’t doubt it’s better to bring up children than to spend all one’s nervous energy on making pictures, but it can’t be helped, I am, or at least I feel I am, too old now to retrace my steps or to desire anything different. That desire has left me, though the mental suffering remains.
It seems that Vincent saw in his brother’s life the very thing he had always desired – love and family kinship. Vincent’s brother died only a year or so later, and his wife had his body moved to the graveyard with Vincent so that they could be together. She later went on to be a champion of her brother-in-law’s artwork. Her son was named after Vincent as well.
Here is the account of Vincent’s death:
Emile Bernard has left us a detailed account of the event, which he sent to Aurier:
“I imagine that you have already guessed that he killed himself. . . . On Sunday evening he went into the Auvers countryside, left his easel against a haystack and went behind the Château and shot himself with a revolver. From the violence of the impact (the bullet passed under the heart) he fell, but he got up and fell again three times and then returned to the inn where he lived (Ravoux, place de la Mairie) without saying anything to anyone about his injury. Finally, Monday evening he expired, smoking [the] pipe he had not wanted to put down, and explaining that his suicide was absolutely calculated and lucid. Characteristically enough, I was told that he frankly stated his desire to die–“Then it has to be done over again”–when Dr. Gachet told him that he still hoped to save him; but, alas, it was no longer possible.”
It is comforting that while he may have been in pain in his final moments, at least he had time to talk with his brother and from the account by his friend, seemed also to be somewhat peaceful. I can only hope that he did find the peace that all men should seek while on this earth… peace with God, our Maker.
Credits: All text in blockquotes by Vincent Van Gogh. Emphasis mine. Van Gogh’s letters are copyrighted by R. G. Harrison – 2001. A full online library of these letters and other related letters can be found at the link under the title to this post.