Vincent's Yellow

a[n] [auto]biography and a love story.


Yes, it’s time to go back home. But it just so happens I forgot one more thing in Arles! The Fondation Vincent van Gogh, that interesting museum full of art inspired by our lovely fellow traveler. It is necessary to share with you, Reader, at least a bit of what I encountered — my favorites.

Roy Lichtenstein’s The Sower, 1985.

Lichtenstein is a rather famous pop artist, whose most well-known work was often based on images from cartoons that he altered and enlarged. I found his take on Vincent fascinating… Lichtenstein gives just enough to evoke the major colors and movements of the original.

Vincent van Gogh’s The Sower, 1888.

This is one of my all time favorite paintings by Vincent, so I was pretty impressed that Lichtenstein’s version was still exciting to me. Then again, I’ve always liked Lichtenstein…

Louis Le Brocquy’s Images of Vincent, 1987.

This was my favorite at the museum because of the energy it captures; it almost feels like Vincent’s spirit touched the page. The Irish artist’s quote on the plaque nearby was additionally evocative. He said he liked to paint the heads of great artists, imagining it as “the magic box which holds consciousness.” He says that these artists are

…great instances of human awareness who have dared to push that awareness beyond its known horizon, who have courageously – heroically – extended the continent of our thought. Such an artist was Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portraits, 1887.

Lastly, at the highest part of the museum, nestled away in the stairs and totally unlabeled, was a model of the famous Yellow House where Vincent lived and worked, where he dreamed of setting up an artists’ commune, where Gauguin came to stay. It was also based quite discreetly on Vincent’s paintings (The Street and The Bedroom) and letters describing how he had set up his lovely house, and decorated it. It was incredible to see the details already familiar to me come to life:

Vincent’s room is on the right, and that’s Gauguin’s room on the left — the sunflower paintings were meant to decorate his room. Vincent wanted to flood the room with yellow. To share a little secret: that room should have been mine instead. I’m convinced everyone would have been better off.

Below is the first floor, kitchen and studio.

Soon after this visit, it was (unbelievably) time to start heading home.

Trains took me North –

— and to my surprise, I was seated facing backwards on every train. I was also retracing my steps… and yours, too, Vincent.

Back at the Gare du Nord, with little time between trains, I ate across the street and watched the Parisian traffic. I stared at the station that took you to and from Arles, just as it did for me. On the way to Amsterdam, I was speeding back-first again, my eyes on the land I was leaving. I felt like a spring coiling back up, yarn being rewound into a ball, and I wondered if maybe I was moving backwards in time, too.

I arrived in Amsterdam after our train finally got through an incredible storm. I spent the slow minutes praying to you, Vincent, that the summer storm might follow us. The city greeted me with low lights and incredible clouds. I had one day left to be near you, Vincent… After an entire day of trains, I collapsed early. In the morning, I made it here:

Kee Vos’s doorstep – the woman you were so incredibly in love with, you held your hand in the flame of a candle until she would come out to see you. You loved no one like you loved her. I imagined how much time you spent in front of the building, debating, building up confidence… There was no marker there, despite the emotions you felt in this spot. I found myself similarly unsure of what to do, until I saw that the soles of my shoes were a bit wet.

A careful (if temporary) print for you, love. I stood there, and knew you. Maybe you knew me too.

As I walked to the Van Gogh Museum to enjoy my last visit, the sky opened up to me, and my dark Arlesienne sunglasses let me see the sun, your star, your source, as I never had before.

I found myself taking photo after photo of the sky, of the sun and clouds; it was something I had never done before.

Overcome by the beauty, by my walk, I sat on the grass of the Museumplein for an hour writing in my journal about how accompanied I had felt during my entire trip, how I was never alone. How I knew you were with me, had shown me things, had taken care of me, Vincent. Nothing had really went wrong in my trip; I had taken an enormous leap — and you caught me.

I let the museum wash over me. I let myself float around, breathe you in with deep, deep breaths. That night I had dinner with my contact at the museum’s library whom I had met in person three weeks earlier, though it felt like a lifetime had passed. In fact… it had.

The next morning, incredulous, I climbed on a plane and headed back home. When I had to declare the total value of all goods acquired abroad, I smiled at the little form. 140 pages of writing? Over a thousand photos? The ability to time-travel?

Oh, and that night I arrived in Amsterdam — it rained so hard strangers huddled together in the crevices. Water returned to slap the roof of my hostel on my last night too, and I knew you had brought it for me.

Mon, January 4 2010 » Artists Inspired by Vincent, Personal, Photo entries, Travel

2 Responses

  1. Judy Veramendi January 4 2010 @ 09:29

    Vincent thank you for bringing me back to the wonderful museum showing the magnificent works inspired by YOU!

  2. Timmy Caldwell January 4 2010 @ 12:22

    I think he decorated the room for you and just didn’t realize he invited the wrong artist to stay with him. (It seems this oversight has been remedied. If ever I think of the Yellow House, I’ll know that your room is the one on the left–the yellow room.)

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