Monday 30 March 2009

Great Boots 2: Van Gogh

Van Gogh, eh? What is one to make of Vincent Van Gogh (born on this day in 1853)? Famously obscure and uncommercial in his day, famously mad and insortbale, now famouly popular, famously expensive, and the model for every would-be self-expressive wielder of a laden brush and a springy palette knife. His late work, so easily approximated, so loud and shrill in its effects, I now find hard to take - but as an adolescent, of course, I was besotted by the spectacle and by its dangerous psychotic edge (a taste we all lose, I think, if we have any contact with the unglamorous realities of psychosis). Certainly Van Gogh painted masterpieces in his Provencal years, and they survive, I think, their popularity and endless reproduction. But as I grow older, I prefer the quieter, less insistent works that he created before the sun and the psychosis got to him - even those muddy scenes of Dutch peasant life - and some of his drawings are wonderfully rewarding; he was undoubtedly a great draughtsman. The auction prices Van Gogh's canvases fetch now have long floated free from any notions of intrinsic value, but what does seem extraordinary is that works regarded barely a century ago as so challenging that they could hardly be looked at are now 'easy' default art for money-burners, and hang on a million suburban living room walls. Will it last? I suspect that, as with the French Impressionists (who have followed a similar trajectory), it will: Van Gogh is instantly identifiable, easily read (now), had obvious sock-in-the-eye appeal - and, on top of all that, he is, in the end, I think, a great artist.
The title of this post, by the way, refers back to this one.


  1. I always had the feeling that Vinnie was the only artist who could paint madness, no matter what the subject was, he seemed to have worn his troubled soul on his sleeve.

    This led of course to the movie industries most notorious case of miscasting, Kirk Douglas for goodness sake. Far worse than Jose Ferrier's Toulouse-Lautrec.

  2. "the only artist who could paint madness": The Scream?

  3. Best painter of madness: Edvard Munch.

    But I do love these boots. Only ones that can match them are the ones Andrew Wyeth painted. Every blade of grass around them mattered, every splatter of dirt, every crease of leather. Those boots were a universe in themselves.

  4. There's no doubt, the dude is absolutely right.