Vincent Van Gogh is admitted to a mental asylum, outside Saint-Rémy in Provence.
He would spend just over a year there.
It was originally planned that he’d go to a large, public institution in Marseille
with over a thousand patients,
right in the heart of the city.
If he had, there is no chance that he would have produced the extraordinary work he did.
In the small asylum at St-Remy, with only 41 patients,
Vincent would be treated with kindness and understanding.
The doctors quickly realised that the only way Vincent would survive,
was if he given the space and the freedom to paint and create.
Art would keep him alive.
As other patients screamed through the night,
Vincent’s Creativity and work ethic was stronger than ever.
He spent every waking hour painting,
and on the whole, producing mostly optimistic landscapes.
He always worked extremely quickly,
often finishing a painting in just a few hours.
Incredibly, considering his circumstances,
he finished at least 150 paintings during his stay at the asylum.
That is about one painting every other day.
And it was on 18th June 1889 that he painted The Starry Night.
In popular culture, Vincent Van Gogh is often seen as the archetypal mad crazed artist,
在主流文化中 文森特·梵高经常被视为 典型的狂热艺术家
and although he did have extreme manic episodes,
most of the time he was lucid and rational.
Vincent was incredibly intelligent and well read,
he was so knowledgeable about art and artists.
He was articulate and spoke four languages.
He also had life long friends, who he met or wrote to regularly.
他也有毕生挚友 经常与他们见面 通信
But he struggled to understand his place in the world.
After a particularly difficult period living with Paul Gauguin,
he suffered an attack of acute mania,
culminating in hallucinations and hearing voices,
which led to him cutting off his own ear.
The doctors at the asylum diagnosed epilepsy.
In all probability he also had what today we call bi-polar, with manic episodes
and auditory hallucinations, as well as syphilis.
伴有躁狂 幻听 还有梅毒
He called his fellow patients his “companions in misfortune”
and recent discoveries show us that Vincent was probably the sanest patient at St-Remy.
Over all, the asylum had a positive effect on him
and he was well enough to paint about 75% of the time.
One visitor, when he came to see Vincent,
found him to be in perfect physical and mental health.
After he left the asylum, Vincent went to Paris to visit his brother Theo,
whose wife Jo remarked on how healthy he looked.
In the asylum, he was drinking a lot less, no absinthe,
在疗养院 他很少喝酒了 没有苦艾酒
no complicated romances, and a regular routine with three meals a day.
Isolation turned out to be good for him, and with no outside distractions,
Vincent, always a hard worker, would channel all his energy into his work.
文森特 一心扑在绘画上 辛勤地工作着
When we think of 19th century asylums,
we think of them as horrific institutions.
but the founder of the St. Remy asylum, was a progressive,
who believed that being surrounded by nature was good for troubled minds,
and had planted extensive gardens.
He also believed in the healing power of art and music.
Of course it was not easy for Vincent,
and he suffered manic attacks when he was unable to paint,
but it could have been a lot worse.
His brother Theo, who was paying for the treatment,
insisted that the asylum allow Vincent to paint,
and he was given a dedicated studio.
His paintings are so often seen as a descent into madness,
but his work drove him and energized him.
He created these images despite his mental illness, not because of it.
As Vincent was led into his sparse cell on the first day,
he must have been terrified,
but also reassured to find that,
although his window had bars, the view was spectacular,
wheat fields glowed in the sun, with olive groves and vineyards receding into the distant foothills
of a low mountain range called les Alpilles.
Initially he portrayed the world he saw from this room,
the subject of many paintings at Saint-Rémy.
But within weeks he would be allowed to wander around the dramatic countryside alone.
The morning after his arrival at the asylum,
Vincent went into the walled garden;
set up his easel and by lunchtime had painted this,
the first of his asylum masterpieces.
Vincent van Gogh was a largely self-taught artist
who didn’t pick up a paintbrush until he was 30 years old.
And just seven years later, he would be dead.
It was really his last four years
where he developed the style we would come to know him by,
and these were also his most prolific years.
Once he found his way, he was making up for lost time.
Vincent’s two years in Paris up until February 1888,
are widely seen as laying the foundation for his later unique style,
exposing him to the influence of impressionists such as Monet and Pissarro
but also a younger generation of artists including Paul Signac, Émile Bernard and Toulouse-Lautrec,
还有新生代的艺术家 包括保罗·西格纳克 埃米尔·伯纳德和图卢兹-劳特雷克
who would all remain, life long friends.
Like many of that generation, he was influenced by Japanese prints,
which, along with his Paris years, would have a transformative effect on his work,
and lay the foundations for radical works like The Starry Night.
We know for a fact that Vincent was an admirer of Hokusai’s The Great Wave
and here we can make comparisons not only between the composition,
but also between the rich blue tones of Hokusai’s tempestuous seas,
and the turbulent skies of Starry Night.
For the final five years of his career,
the bright new palette takes over from his previous dark muted colour scheme.
A period that coincided with the invention of many new synthetic pigments that Vincent took advantage of.
Colour above all, was Vincent’s visual vocabulary.
With these later works we see more and more Japanese influence:
Blocks of pure colour, dark outlines, no shadows,
大片的单色块 黑色的描边 没有阴影
unusual cropping and distorted perspective.
“今早我在日出前看了很久窗外的田野 除了一颗很大的星星之外一无所有。” 致提奥 1889年6月2日
This was just one of many letters Vincent wrote to friends
that mentioned a “starry sky” and it was something he had planned for a while.
The Starry Night depicts the view from his asylum window on the upper floor.
He had already painted the view dozens of times, but this time it was a nocturne,
which, as he couldn’t paint in the dark, meant it was painted from memory during the day in his ground-floor studio.
The views he painted from his window, are all linked by the diagonal line
coming in from the right depicting the low rolling hills.
In reality, the cypress trees are much smaller
and are beyond the far wall enclosing the wheat field.
For Starry Night, Vincent brings the tree much closer to the picture plane.
This reminds us of the tight cropping we see in Japanese prints.
The Cypress tree was a newly discovered motif for Vincent,
and are seen as a symbol of death in Mediterranean culture.
Here, the tree shoots up into the sky, linking heaven and earth.
在这幅画里 柏树直插云霄 连接了天空和大地
Like the impressionists, Vincent had always insisted on working directly from nature,
but a few months earlier, Paul Gauguin had tried to persuade him to paint from his imagination.
Vincent resisted then, but in the asylum,
with limited freedom, it was a necessity.
In this highly charged picture, he would create in paint
something we cannot see or touch, something immaterial.
He would use paint to show a sky that is electric.
That is how we imagine the night sky to be.
This is a critical time for art, when artists are shifting from the narrative
to expressing themselves with a new way of seeing.
Vincent’s work is paving the way for modern art.
Is this an accurate depiction of the stars, on or around June the 18th?
Astronomers have worked out that the moon that night was actually almost full,
rather than the crescent moon we see in the painting.
And Venus, the brightest star, was only visible just before dawn,
by which time the moon was not visible from Vincent’s room.
On this re-creation, we can see the constellation Aries was also visible.
I think the Starry night is an amalgamation of night-time and dawn views from his window.
The sky is painted with Vincent’s signature short brush strokes of thick IMPASTO.
We can see how he applies the impasto technique,
painting so thickly, sometimes straight from the tube,
spreading paint like butter with a palette knife.
It is these paint heavy, stabbing brush strokes,
that distinguishes Vincent from the other post-impressionists.
A few weeks before, Vincent, in a manic episode, had tried to poison himself,
几周前 文森特的精神疾病发作时 曾试图
by swallowing paint and turpentine.
Literally, killing himself with colour,
and now he was using the same tubes to produce this.
Colour was Vincent’s way of communicating,
and he had an innate and even avant-garde tendency
towards colours that were expressive and intense.
He had learned about complimentary Colour theory
after seeing paintings by Rubens and in particular Delacroix.
In Paris, Vincent went to see this ceiling mural by Delacroix in the Louvre,
在巴黎 文森特去卢浮宫 看了德拉克洛瓦的天花板壁画
and it was a revelation how bright contrasting colours could work together.
Vincent read everything he could on Delacroix’s colour theories,
which uses opposite colours on the colour wheel,
a combination which gives high contrast and high impact,
for example: red and green , or blue and orange.
The impressionists in Paris gave him looser, lighter brush strokes,
and the pointillist, Seurat, introduced him to optical mixing:
pure colours blended by the eye to form a coherent image.
His brother Theo would later say that The Starry Night was style over substance,
but just how stylized are Vincent’s swirling galaxies?
If we look at a modern image of the Whirlpool galaxy,
it bears a striking resemblance to Vincent’s stars.
But could he have known about spiral galaxies back in 1889?
This drawing made by the English astronomer Lord Rosse in 1850
was reproduced as an etching in a French astronomy book,
which had caused a sensation.
Vincent, who was passionate about astronomy, had even met the author in Paris.
The white band hanging over the hills is almost certainly the morning mist.
By the time he painted The Starry Night,
he was allowed out for walks to explore the area alone,
and it was on one of his walks he drew this bird’s eye view of the village.
He places the village in the valley even though it was not visible from Vincent’s room
or from his studio, and was in fact in the opposite direction.
He shows a dozen or so houses, whereas there were in fact hundreds.
He has the houses lit by impossibly bright gas lamps,
as a device to balance out the yellow stars.
Vincent paints an idealized village, and it bears no resemblance to the real one,
or even the domed church of St-Remy.
The pitched roof he portrays is more reminiscent of the Dutch churches he knew well.
I wonder if he was also thinking of the little childhood church in Nuenen, where his father was the preacher.
Like all great paintings, The Starry Night has been interpreted in many ways,
notably concerning his religious beliefs.
Although Vincent became an evangelical preacher in his twenties, he later rejected Christianity.
But when Vincent lost his faith, he transferred many of his ideas into his art.
Hard work and the appreciation of nature were seen as part of the worship of God
in the Protestant tradition in which he was raised.
His art had always emphasised the changing and renewing power of the seasons,
and there was no harder working artist than Vincent.
In less than a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings,
在十年内 他创作了2100幅作品 包括860幅油画
most of which date from the last two years of his life.
He spoke of art as a new kind of religion, a way to console people,
and The Starry night in particular reflected these beliefs.
Nature for him was a source of the infinite, and the stars had a deep spiritual meaning.
Stars that must have comforted Vincent as he gazed at the night sky from his cell.
Vincent van Gogh would dismiss his most famous painting as a “failure” and maybe if he lived longer,
he would have painted over it, as he did with so many of his paintings he considered “failures”.
He was released from the asylum, and he moved to the village of Auvers, 20 kilometres north of Paris,
and two months later he shot himself.
It took Vincent thirty-six hours to die, which meant Theo, the brother who supported him both financially and emotionally,
was at his side when he died.
Theo himself was to die just six months after Vincent.
It is a myth than Vincent was unrecognised in his lifetime.
He was already considered an important artist by his peers.
His work had been shown in an exhibition in Brussels
alongside Toulouse Lautrec, Cezanne and Renoir.
“The Red Vineyard” had sold for the decent sum of 400 francs.
A major art critic had just published an article on him,
and only two months before his death,
ten of his works went on display in a major show in Paris, attended by the president of France.
Vincent Van Gogh was on the verge of success,
and may have killed himself at the very moment he was going to become what he had always wanted.
Vincent Van Gogh is admitted to a mental asylum, outside Saint-Rémy in Provence.