Sunday, 2 August 2015

* "I am a stranger on the earth..."

All of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings are important but 'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' means the most to me.

It's a striking double canvas, slightly larger than an opened-out gatefold LP sleeve, depicting a broad country panorama being pummelled and pelted under a particularly brutal summer downpour.

Diagonal streaks of rain stripe the painting from top to bottom and much of the French wheat fields' colour has been sapped by the storm. Vincent's other late-period works glow with characteristic yellow-golds and rich greens, but this scene has surrendered to cold silvers and greys, dark blues and depressed ochres.

To stand face to face with the painting, now in peaceful retirement at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, is to square up to the artist's own tantrums. A knife has been used to slash the canvas. Thick paint has been pasted on, as if spitefully. Where some of Vincent's earlier, happier work comes bundled with concession and compromise and a nod to contemporary taste, this one does not. It's a last hurrah. It's immense. No filter.

It was hanging on the wall of Vincent's room at Café Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris, as he lay dying from his self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was most likely completed on or slightly before 27 July 1890. Vincent died two days later aged 37, the poor, poor man.

'Landscape in the Rain at Auvers' continued to stand guard over its creator's corpse until the funeral but for unknown reasons it never went on to enter the possession of the Van Gogh family. Maybe it was squirreled away? Canvas impressions on the thick paint splashes suggest, to my untrained eye at least, that it was rolled up while still drying.

One day in the late 19th Century it came up for sale in Paris. The Davies sisters bought it, and later bequeathed it to their local gallery. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, probably scared by the broken provenance, has always distanced itself from this one. But they're fools.

This is Vincent laid bare. Forget crows. FUCK crows. What the fuck have crows got to do with anything? This is Vincent's full stop. And it's the saddest thing ever.

* The first words from Vincent's first Sunday sermon. Turnham Green, London. 29 October 1876.

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