His mind pooled with depression, yet his paintings screamed color and light. You have to want to get behind a mind like that.
In Doctor Who’s fifth series and tenth episode, we get to visit with Vincent Van Gogh as written by Richard Curtis. (It’s a wonderful episode! And if you haven’t seen it, you need to go watch it right now. Do it. I’m waiting. I’m waiting more. I’m done waiting. Onward.)
Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands during a time when God was a lantern. After wars and floods ended a time when Protestantism was meant to “rally the faithful,” Van Gogh was born into a world that sought God to comfort it in its trials (Naifeh 17). This is the mindset that Vincent grew up influenced by—the mindset that all his hope was in refuge.
One of Vincent Van Gogh’s most well-renowned paintings is that of the sunflowers. There are actually five different sunflower paintings created by Vincent Van Gogh, each hanging in a different spot. Only one has a yellow background—Vincent’s favorite. In this painting he takes definite artistic risks, putting purple against yellow and using yellow for both the foreground and background (The National Gallery 5).
Let’s get a good look at the sunflower paintings. If you zoom in on the paintings, you can actually see the brushstrokes in each petal. Incredible.
The first two are paintings by Van Vogh. The last is a painting of him by his friend, Paul Gauguin.
Vincent was a violent painter. He slashed his canvas with oil paints while muttering angrily at his work (Naifeh 615). Can you see it in the brushstrokes? Especially in Sunflowers with the blue background, you can see how heavily the paint has been laid on, the jagged angling of the petals. Vincent believed himself to be “consuming” nature and setting it free. Vincent saw none of this as his own imagination (Naifeh 632).
The Van Gogh Museum states that Van Gogh meant for the sunflower paintings to be framed and stand as candles in between his other paintings, beacons of hope. They were to be small suns between the darker portraits in his gallery.
For a man whose life was filled with rejection by society and his family, as well as severe mental illness, the Sunflowers series was more than paintings. These paintings were symbols of the refuge he was taught to take as a child, wicks to light his way.
“Vincent and the Doctor” explores the idea of the sunflower as a symbol of life and death cycles. We can examine this ourselves: the petals grow and the pollen is heavy on the center of the flower. Pollination occurs and the petals die and the seeds are born and mature. The sunflower heads hang, heavy, and the seeds are plucked by birds or people or—perhaps—are planted. God, The Lamp, protects the seeds and Vincent finds hope in new sunflowers. God the Lamp is reborn in a new symbol of changing life.
And Vincent paints it because somewhere in his dark mind he has to consume hope again through the flowers. And, violently, Vincent sets hope free to light our galleries.
And, in the words of the Doctor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjUKGfBW74o
Naifeh, Steven, and Gregory White. Smith. Van Gogh: The Life. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.
“Sunflowers – Vincent Willem Van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 – 1890 – Google Cultural Institute.” Sunflowers – Vincent Willem Van Gogh, Dutch, 1853 – 1890 – Google Cultural Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
“Sunflowers: Symbols of Happiness.” Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2014.
“Van Gogh Museum – Sunflowers.” Van Gogh Museum – Sunflowers. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.