Blackpaint 240


Bruegel the Younger

The Procession to Calvary is staying at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, after £2.7 million was raised in a “Save it for the nation” appeal.  Its a beautiful, busy picture, browns more drained than those of the Elder, a threatening, cindery sky over Calvary in the top right.  As Maev Kennedy says in the Guardian, ” it shows a landscpe teeming with figures getting on with their lives…, too busy to notice Christ and his captors making their way to a bleak hilltop…”.  In this respect, of course, it echoes the elder Bruegel’s “Fall of Icarus”, the subject of Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”.

Van Gogh

Reading his Letters and only up to 1880.  It’s noticeable that a different tone has been struck in the letter of 24th September 1880, which ends the longish gap in his correspondence with Theo.  In previous letters, the religious fervour and insufferable piety with which they were loaded has all but dispersed.  A letter or two before, Vincent recounted an entire sermon he had preached in Isleworth, much of which had to do with Pilgrim’s Progress.  Then, there was one in July 1880, full of anguish (and preachiness), in which Vincent tried to portray himself as a superior kind of “ne’er do well” – his words – not the kind that is lazy or immoral but a noble sort of “ne’er do well”, who just hasn’t found the right outlet for his talents.

Now, he has decided that painting is the thing and is obsessively training himself and developing fervent opinions on the subject.  God is still very much hovering about, but mercifully, in the background.

It seems clear to me that Van Gogh’s obsession with religion transferred to art wholesale; I was interested to see this in the letters, as there is currently a sort of revisionism going on with Van Gogh.  He is being presented as the “consummate professional” (see Blackpaint 230), a controlled, dedicated and focused seeker of artistic truth, whose mental problems were separate from his painting, in the sense that they had no influence over the technical process.  He did not paint in a frenzy, as was once popularly thought.

I’m sure this is correct, but I don’t think you can entirely separate the mental problems from the paintings.  I was quite surprised to read the letters and discover just how disturbed he appears to be.  He was surely an obsessive personality and suffered from depression; then again, a lot of artists do, and a lot are obsessive in their practice – Frank Auerbach comes to mind.  And times change; the tone of the letters may have seemed less strange in the 19th century.

Cass Art

I said in Blackpaint 226 that the staff at Cass in Charing Cross Road seemed to have changed and hoped there hadn’t been a mass purge; happy to report I was wrong – must have just picked a different shift to visit last time.

No pictures today  – I’m using my son’s Mac and don’t know how to load them.

Blackpaint

07.01.11

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