Thinking of Van Gogh by Norbert Marszalek


I never gave Vincent van Gogh much thought. That changed after reading Van Gogh – The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. I saw past the icon to a man that was fraught with instability, fear, anger, self-doubt, and yes, lots of passion. All this combined to form his brilliance.

Vincent was definitely troubled to say the least—suffering from manic depression, syphilis and a form of epilepsy. He had a difficult time making friends and holding on to friends—often considered the “crazy” man by the locals. But Naifeh and Smith also reveal a spirited intellect, a voracious reader and a fierce observer of other artists’ work. This book is definitely “the life” of Van Gogh.

So it was with much anticipation when I learned that The Phillips Collection was hosting Van Gogh: Repetitions. Seeing this work really brought the biography to life. His portraits and landscapes felt deeply familiar to me … like lost friends. I was looking beyond the pigment and canvas to the man … this pained yet brilliant artist. I soaked in Vincent’s creative soul.

That being said, I wasn’t impressed by the actual theme of the exhibition, “Repetitions.” This show states, “to take a fresh look at the artistic process of Vincent van Gogh … the exhibition is the first to focus on van Gogh’s “repetitions”—a term the artist used to describe his practice of creating more than one version of a particular subject.” Not to oversimplify, but I couldn’t help thinking that Vincent painted many of his sitters over and over again because he had a very difficult time getting people to sit for him in the first place. Plus, (I could only imagine) his manic behavior had to play a role in his “repeating” subjects.

Either way, this whole experience has me thinking of Van Gogh now. That’s a good thing.

The book.
The show.