This post is dedicated to my father-in-law, Vincent Rowley.
The story of Vincent van Gogh resonates with people today. He left a wonderful legacy in his art but his life was a mixture of genius and insanity. Many would say that true genius can be very close to insanity. Have we romanticized Vincent’s life? Possibly. The thought of an artist or writer toiling away in beautiful locations, creating their masterpieces does appeal to those of us who are so inclined. But Vincent’s life was cut short.
Van Gogh was the son of a protestant minister and his life course led him from dealing in art to Christian ministry and finally to the life of an artist. He was unlucky in love and, as is often the case, didn’t receive recognition for his creative genius until after his death. Like most artists and writers, Vincent took an interest in those around him and in his surroundings and this inspired his art.
Another source of inspiration for Van Gogh was his brother Theo, who saw something in Vincent and encouraged his artistic endeavours. The world could so easily have been deprived of Vincent’s legacy as he suffered from deep insecurity over his art, having no early artistic abilities, no training and little encouragement from his parents and society. A burning need to leave the world something of himself drove Vincent to paint and his brother financially supported him to enable a life devoted to art.
But Vincent couldn’t control the bomb that was ticking away in his brain- epilepsy, psychotic attacks and delusions. His behaviour was unpredictable and he required hospitalisation. There were long periods of no creativity interspersed with frantic painting where he produced a canvas each day. This was when his The Starry Night was born.
I was out at dinner recently and Don McLean’s Starry, Starry Night was playing. It’s one of my favourite songs and the idea for this blog popped into my head. McLean sings of Vincent’s art, his mental anguish, his death and his legacy.
Those of you who are Dr Who fans will remember the episode where the doctor and Amy travel back to Vincent’s world, discovering an alien monster which is visible to Vincent but not to them. They must battle this monster without being able to see it. The episode begins in an art gallery where the doctor is viewing a Van Gogh exhibition and sees the monster in one of Van Gogh’s paintings. He travels back in time to find it.
Mission accomplished, the doctor and Amy decide to take Vincent forward with them to show him the exhibition of his work, hoping it will give him the will to live on. He is overwhelmed by seeing his art appreciated and speaking to the guide who pays Van Gogh a wonderful tribute. But Vincent still takes his life a short time later.
Vincent Van Gogh touched many lives and continues to do so long after his death. He lives on in his paintings, just as he wished when he was a young man. And so his life is a triumph and the beauty and tragedy of his soul continue to affect us today.
Last week, we buried my father-in-law, Vincent Rowley. Vince was taken from us too soon, by cancer. He touched many lives and fought his disease for seventeen years. He raised six sons and had thirteen grandchildren. He was a loving and faithful husband to his wife Esther. He had many friends. He helped many people. Of all things in his life, Vince cherished his family and we all miss him. We are comforted by the knowledge that our Vincent is now out of his pain and in God’s arms.