Van Gogh: Starry Nights & Sunflowers

Van Gogh: Starry Nights & Sunflowers Human Voices Wake Us

An episode from 7/27/22: Tonight, I read from Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life, sharing the sections covering Van Gogh’s two Starry Night paintings, and his many paintings of sunflowers.

Before these images became as ubiquitous as Michelangelo’s David, they were the product of a largely unknown artist who was working in the south of France in the late 1880s. Unable to support himself in any conventional way, unable to make or keep friends, and unable–it seems–to do much else than paint and paint, these pictures are only a few of his expressions of love for the world, and how he saw it.

It is significant, too, that his Starry Night Over the Rhone includes the two stock-figures that appear over and over again in his work: a couple, walking together; that his other Starry Night depicts a village beneath its swirl of stars. And his many sunflowers were, of course, painted ahead of Paul Gauguin’s arrival at Vincent’s Yellow House in Arles, and were spread around as a kind of welcoming gift. All of these works point to van Gogh’s fantasies of romantic companionship, sympathetic friendship among fellow artists, and his simple–and sometimes sentimental–desire to simply belong, all of which were doomed. Where van Gogh failed in human company, he succeeded, at great cost to himself, with his art.

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