van gogh the raising of lazarus rembrandt
And now at present I admit that I should have been treated earlier, but itвЂ™s human to err in that.
A French writer says that all painters are mad to some degree, and although thereвЂ™s a great deal to be said against that, itвЂ™s certain that one is too easily alienated by it. Be this as it may, here, where I donвЂ™t have to concern myself with anything etc. вЂ” I imagine that the standard of my work is getting better.
And so I go on with relative calm and do my best at my work and donвЂ™t count myself among the unfortunates.
At the moment IвЂ™m working on a painting of a path between the mountains and a small stream that works its way between the stones. The rocks are solid lilac grey or pink, with bushes here and there: box and a sort of broom, that have all sorts of colours, green, yellow, red, brown, because of the autumn. And the stream in the foreground white and foaming like soapsuds, and further up reflecting the blue of the sky.
And now itвЂ™s certain that the work theyвЂ™re making here at present is very different вЂ” more colourful and more forthrightly drawn than what people used to do in Holland in the time of Schelfhout, say. And yet the one is so much a consequence of the other. For example, you knew the old Van de Sande Bakhuyzen and Jules Bakhuyzen. I thought of their work only recently, that with all the apparent difference thereвЂ™s still so little change in peopleвЂ™s ideas.
Anyway I believe that Jules Bakhuyzen, say, would understand perfectly what I paint these days, that ravine with the stream, and another painting вЂ” of the park at the asylum вЂ” large pine trees against an evening sky.
I hope Theo sent you my studies, but IвЂ™m already working on another rather large painting for you of women harvesting olives. The trees grey-green with a pink sky and purplish soil. All the colours more subdued than usual.
I had hoped to send it before long, but itвЂ™s drying slowly.
As I told you, I often regret that IвЂ™m sometimes so alienated; I resist it, but it makes me so unfit to do many things that were actually my duty. ThereвЂ™s literally nothing wrong with my health, but last yearвЂ™s shock means I would still dread going outside an asylum. IвЂ™ve sometimes imagined that if I abandoned painting and had some hard life or other, as a soldier going to the east, say, that would make me better. But itвЂ™s already rather too late for that, and IвЂ™m afraid theyвЂ™d turn me down. I think this half in jest, half in earnest. For the moment the workвЂ™s going well, but of course my thoughts, always fixed on colours and drawing, continue to go round in a rather small circle.
So I want to live by the day вЂ” trying to get from one to the next. And for that matter my fellow painters also often complain that the profession makes one so powerless. Or that itвЂ™s the powerless who practise it.
In Van Gogh’s version of The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt), Christ is depicted symbolically through the sun to evoke the healing powers of faith. Christ is further referenced in two ways by the setting and circumstance. First, miraculously, he brought Lazarus back to life again. It also foretold Christ’s own death and resurrection. The painting includes the dead Lazarus and his two sisters. White, yellow and violet were used for Lazarus and the cave. One of the women is in a vibrant green dress and orange hair. The other wears a striped green and pink gown and has black hair. Behind them is the countryside of blue and a bright yellow sun.
Prints from other masters inspired Van Gogh during his stay at the hospital in Saint-Rémy, and he made his version of the Raising of Lazarus from an etching by Rembrandt. With his ginger beard, Lazarus bears some resemblance to Van Gogh himself. The painter may have seen a parallel between Lazarus’ return from the dead and his struggle from mental illness towards recovery.
This painting is based on an etching by Rembrandt that Van Gogh’s brother Theo had sent him. Van Gogh seems to be focused on the theme of human suffering. He was identifying with Lazarus in the tomb. While he also imagined the reaction of two acquaintances from Arles, Mrs. Roulin, in the green dress, and Mrs. Ginoux, in a dress with colorful stripes. Christ is depicted symbolically through the sun to evoke the healing powers of faith. Spiritual meaning and emotional comfort were expressed through symbolism and color.
In 1888 Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo that he thought about Rembrandt far more than his studies might suggest. That was no understatement. To look at his work he seems to have absorbed little of Rembrandt’s influence, yet from his letters it is clear that Van Gogh’s interest in the 17th-century master remained with him throughout his life. When he visited the newly opened Rijksmuseum in 1885, for example, he declared that he would gladly have given ten years of his life to have been able to sit for fourteen days in front of The Jewish Bride “with barely a crust of dry bread to eat”.
At first, Van Gogh admired Rembrandt as a man and a Christian rather than as a painter, but that changed when he decided to become an artist himself. He came to understand Rembrandt’s artistic genius, and he epitomised for him the ability to evoke and say things “for which no words exist in any language”.
April 28th, 2011
Raising of Lazarus (Rembrandt), Vincent van Gogh.
Saint-Remy, May 1890.
Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt), Vincent van Gogh. Oil on paper, 50 x 65 cm. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum. F 677, JH 1972.
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