For almost a year now, I have been walking past this house in Isleworth, a small English town in one of the Boroughs of London. A ceramic Blue Plaque on its front facade always caught my attention and I have been intending to read what’s written on it.
Blue plaques like these are part of the English heritage scheme that was initiated to commemorate and mark the buildings where famous people have lived and worked. They celebrate the architecture of London’s streets and the diversity and achievements of its past residents. London’s blue plaques scheme, founded in 1866, is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world.
Last month I finally decided to stop and read the small white text on it. It read,
‘VINCENT VAN GOGH, the famous painter lived here in 1876’
Sorry did I read it right? The Great Dutch Artist Vincent Van Gogh lived here? Right here in this building? I was astounded and so shocked by what I had just discovered and more by the fact that it took me one year to learn this. Why did I not know this earlier? I was smiling on my way back thinking that the Post Impressionist Artist Vincent Van Gogh is/was my neighbour? Which means at some point in the history he lived just few meters from my house?
In 1876, it was here in Isleworth that Van Gogh at the age of 23, worked as an art teacher for Reverend Thomas Slade-Jones. The school was run in this house. Van Gogh taught the boys in the morning and often looked after the Slade-Jones’s own six children in the afternoon. He lived in the top floor room of this building.
I have seen and studied his work on so many occasions, his Post Impressionist, Pointillist style of painting with vibrant primary colours-The Sun flowers, The Starry Night, Irises to name a few. But I have mostly admired his work of self portraits, more than anything else.
Ever since the discovery, my curiosity about Van Gogh has grown and I have been reading, watching and gathering as much knowledge as I can, about his work and also about his life. But as I learn more and more about his personal life, the series of sad and tragic events in his life, I find myself empathizing with his situation. Sadly he has also been given so many other names- the tortured genius, the troubled artist, the unstable artist, the tragic artist and some have even called him the mad Dutch artist.
Even as a child, Van Gogh was always a loner. The bright colours in his Portraits, Still-life and other landscape paintings were not always part of his choice of palette. Earlier in his career, he infact preferred dull dark shades and only on insistence of his brother Theo, who was an art dealer, that he started using bright colours in the later part of his career as Theo thought that it would make his paintings sell better. Van Gogh’s struggle with love, his family, religion, conflicts with his brother Theo to whom he was very close, and of course his turbulent relationship and great admiration akin adulation for Paul Gauguin, the French artist for whom he cut his ear, just sounds very surreal.
This has all been very well portrayed in the 1990 biographical film ‘Vincent and Theo’ by Robert Altman.
Vincent Van Gogh died at a young age of 37. He shot himself with a gun. His brother Theo could never get over his brother’s untimely death and he too died within a year. Their graves lie next to each other in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. In his short life span Van Gogh painted around 2000 paintings.
After the ear incident, Gauguin fled away and they never saw each other. Van Gogh suffered from depression and had many acute psychotic episodes.This is not a very pleasant story of an artist. But it’s a true story and my heart goes to this great artist. He might not have had a perfect happy life, but he still became to be known as one of the World’s Great Artists.
Yes I have discovered a new neighbour, Vincent Van Gogh the Great Post Impressionist Artist and the man behind those great paintings whom I continue discovering. Respect!