20 November 2010

From An Old House In Cuesmes: Vincent Van Gogh

"Now, if you can forgive someone for immersing himself in pictures..."

"So please don't think I am renouncing anything, I am reasonably faithful in my unfaithfulness and although I have changed, I am still the same, and what preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service in some way, how can I become more knowledgeable and study some subject or other in depth?"
- excerpts from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, July, 1880.

"Well, even in these depths of misery I felt my energy revive & said to myself, I shall get over it somehow, I shall get to work again with my pencil, which i had cast aside in my deep dejection, & I shall draw again, & ever since I have had the feeling that everything has changed for me, & now i am in my stride & my pencil has become slightly more willing & seems to be getting more so by the day.  My over-long & over- intense misery had discouraged me so much hat i was unable to do anything."

"...I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have taken up drawing again.  I had been thinking about it for a long time, but always considered it impossible & beyond my abilities.  But now, though I continue to be conscious of my failings & of my depressing dependence on a great many things, now I have recovered my peace of mind & my energy increases by the day."

"At the same time I must tell you that I cannot remain very much longer in the little room where I live now.  It is very small indeed, and then there are the two beds as well, the children's & my own.  And now that I am working on Bargue's fairly large sheets I cannot tell you how difficult it is.  I don't want to upset these people's domestic arrangements."
- excerpts from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, Cuesmes, September 24, 1880., translated from the Dutch by Arnold Pomerans in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, New York, Penguin Books: 1996.
Cuesmes is a small village in the Walloon region of southern  Belgium.   Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) arrived from Amsterdam in 1878, to be  a worker-priest among the coal miners of the Borinage.   Emile Zola's novel Germinal (1885) is a portrait of that difficult world. In July, 1879, Van Gogh lost that job, yet another rejection for one who yearned to give of himself to other people.  After great anguish, he found a spiritual vocation in art. "I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may."
Today the old brick house gives none of that history away.
1. The Magrot House At Cuesmes - photograph by Jean-Paul Grandmont, 2006.
2. Vincent Van Gogh - Miners - September 1880, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterloo, Netherlands.


Chemin des Muguets said...

Greetings Jane,

I love your blog. This post brings to mind the Casanova restaurant here in Carmel which is owned by a Belgian. He has a table in the restaurant with a Van Gogh association. Thought you would find that interesting.


Sally Tharpe Rowles said...

Wow, thank you so much for this post!! It is just what I needed today. If Van Gogh's anguished words can not pull me out of my own painters block then certainly nothing can.

Neil said...

Has there ever been a more truly spiritual being than Vincent? A great writer as well as a great artist, despite being so confounded with psychological, emotional and religious difficulties. All of his letters are available on the net, at an excellent site- pause to look it up - www.vangoghletters.org.

Linda Starr said...

amazing, and lovely, loney looking house.

Jane said...

Thank you, Chemin de Muguets. I love your sailor hat. I shall have to check if the restaurant has a website.

Jane said...

Sally, I think that perseverance is a great virtue and a great gift. I recommend Joan Ross Acocella's book "Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints (Pantheon: 2007. Belles-lettres rather than self-help. I often reread portions of it with appreciation.

Jane said...

Neil, thank you for that link. I happen to be reading some of the letters at the same time as a collection of Ann Beattie's "The New Yorker Stories" and the contrast was painful. I wonder how Beattie feels about spending decades writing about narcissistic, solipsistic people?

Jane said...

Linda, the Magrot family was a mining family in Cuesmes. And now the house is known as the Van Gogh house, precarious though his stay there was. With a magnifying glass, you may be able to see the plaque to that effect next to the door.