Vincent & Theo – van Gogh’s letters

I cannot agree with what many critics agreeably claim that The Letters of Vincent van Gogh – a collection of over 600 writings he sent to his brother Theo between 1872 and 1890 (a year of the painter’s premature death) belong to the literary world due to their great intrinsic beauty, power of expression or the use of metaphors.

Although they are not bankrupts in terms of fluency, sometimes even some flair of expression I found them difficult to absorb, mostly due their watery nature. And they do show Vincent van Gogh demythologised, without all that ‘mad genius’ charm – we get a picture of a strong-minded, passionate man of an unusual integrity and a fantastic humanitarian approach to others, yet quite ‘down to earth’ and not particularly an intellectual (which is not a fault in itself). There is almost no sign of his famed mental illness in these letters, as if he chose not to communicate with his beloved brother in the times he didn’t feel well (which would prove his above-average ability of the self-control). And the biggest shame of this whole phenomenon is, that during the artist’s most formative Paris period (1886-1888) Vincent and Theo had shared one apartment, without a need to communicate in writing.

But, on the overall, art historians and this incredible painter’s admirers (to which crowded company I would count myself in) do welcome this great source of historical and generally – ‘human’ insight. And, though your mother was right – you shouldn’t be tempted to read somebody else’s private correspondence – I do recommend to become familiar with it. It’s refreshingly ‘ordinary’ yet with some ‘pearls’ to be find for everyone serious enough; and it’s likely to awake one’s longing for the lost world of long, intimate letters ( I mean the ‘normal’ paper writings in an envelope) being sent to those, who cared to receive them and to answer to them…

I did become jealous of Theo – of that saintly patient, caring man, a perfect listener and a correspondent. Everyone should have his/hers own Theo – to be able to compose and to send even hundreds of difficult, honest, deeply personal letters with a confidence that they won’t be ignored and/or ridiculed. Not having Theo on our own we keep sending, out of our loneliness and hope, those countless messages of a well-masked, yet absolutely essential need to be noticed, heard and understood – we doing this writing books, poems, diaries, journals, SMS-s, e-mails, artistic statements, blogs… Recently, I’ve started to give a title to my notes: My Dear Theo… And further: Quite shamelessly I have to admit that your non-existence doesn’t bother me too much… or maybe it does, a bit…


My edition of The Letters of Vincent van Gogh – selected by Ronald de Leeuw, translated (English) by Arnold Pomerans, Penguin Classics, England, 1997


About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

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