At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh

At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh

by Kathleen Powers Erickson

This biography by Kathleen Powers Erickson, based on van Gogh's personal correspondence, dearly shows van Gogh's pilgrimage of faith, from his early religious training, through his evangelical missionary period, to his struggle with religion and modernity, and finally to the synthesis of the religious and the modern which he achieved in both his life and his work.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Art
  • Rating: 3.88
  • Pages: 222
  • Publish Date: August 1st 1998 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  • Isbn10: 0802838561
  • Isbn13: 9780802838568

What People Think about "At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent Van Gogh"

Vincent van Gogh was a complicated, yet simple individual of deep faith and great ability whose life was interrupted by uncontrollable mental instability as a result of epilepsy. van Gogh did, however, before heading down an artistic path, spend some time serving the poor and needy, as he strived to follow and imitate Christ. Despite being rejected by the church and despite feelings that the pastors and people within the church were hypocrites, van Gogh lived his faith through acts of service similar to St. Francis of Assisi. this is also prevalent in my favorite van Gogh painting The church at Auvers.

Then I go out at night to pain the stars.'" (6) "In subscribing to Victor Hugo's maxim, 'Religions pass, but God remains,' van Gogh indicated that his own faith went outside the boundaries of the institutional forms available to him and engaged a profound and private search for God." (6) "Vincent described his father as one '...who so often goes long distances, even in the night with a lantern, to visit a sick or dying man, to speak with him about One whose Word is a light, even in the night of suffering and agony.'" (12) "He wrote to Theo, his brother, 'It is God who makes real men and who can enrich our lives with moments and periods of higher feeling. Through imitation of the life of Jesus Christ, humans could develop their full potential and become more like God. In this, Groningen also echoes the basis of Schleiermacher's ethical teaching in which he claimed that man's chief vocation was to create in himself the consciousness and character of Jesus." (19) // don't entirely agree "However, while Calvin and Luther argued that man was sinful by nature, the teachers of the Groningen School, de Groot, van Oordt, and Pareau, argued that man was sinful by his condition of being apart from jesus Christ. He simply embraced his 'religious cause' with the same characteristic intensity with which he was later to embrace his artistic cause." (42) "'But my dear van Gogh, how is it possible that you can go to three different churches of such divergent creeds?' He said, 'Well, in every church I see God, and it's all the same to me whether a Protestant pastor or Roman Catholic priest preaches; it is not really a matter of dogma, but of the spirit of the Gospel, and I find this spirit in all churches.'" (46) emphasis added // in a letter to P.C. Gorlitz "Yet van Gogh's Jesus was not the triumphant Christ of the Ascension, but the 'Man of Sorrows' in the agony of Gethsemane, as he prayed for deliverance from his fate, and Calvary, where he died a tormented death on the cross. . .'" (68) // a much preferable perspective, in my opinion, but sad the events that led him to reach it "Those art historians who have seen van Gogh's oeuvre as incompatible with religion, or at least Christianity, have fundamentally misconstrued this religious turning point in 1881. For this reason I think a painter is happy because he is in harmony with Nature as soon as he can express a little of what he sees.'" (76) // "I think it a splendid saying of Victor Hugo's 'les religions passent, mais Dieu demeure' religions pass away, but God remains and another beautiful saying of Gavarni's is 'Il s'agit de saisir ce qui ne passe pas dans ce qui passe' what matters is to grasp what does not pass away in what passes away." (79) // letter from Vincent to Theo "Bent over with his fists clenched against a face hidden in utter frustration, the subject appears engulfed in grief. It demonstrates that even in his deepest moments of sorrow and pain, van Gogh clung to a faith in God and eternity, which he tried to express in his work: ' . This is far from all theology, simply the fact that the poorest little woodcutter or peasant on the hearth or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration that give him a feeling of an eternal home, and of being close to it.'" (86) "It Jozef Israels' Frugal Meal was an attempt to show that the sacred, depicted in the most mundane acts of human experience, conveyed the presence of the divine with far more poignancy than the traditional subjects of cross and cathedral." (88) // brackets added "Because van Gogh's father, Theodorus, died suddenly on March 26, 1885, virtually all critics of this painting Still-life with Open Bible view it as a type of memorial to Theodorus. In the same way, if one combines red and blue in order to produce violet, this secondary color, violet, will be intensified by the immediate proximity of yellow. "Van Gogh was reluctant to paint a realistic representation of Christ because he felt Christ to be too important a figure to paint without proper models, so adopted a symbolic vocabulary of using yellow as Christ's representative." (99) // brackets added "In evaluating the influence of his illness on his changing style, I have followed one simple principle: any change in style that was a deliberate working out of an aesthetic problem, such as his attempts to lighten the colors in his paintings, I attribute to artist choice, not illness. Distortion of perspective was one way in which van Gogh attempted to 'modernize' his painting." (103) "His illness actually had more of an impact on his selection of subject-matter than it did on his style, prompting a habitual choice of images of Christian suffering and redemption. Van Gogh's affliction made him more acutely aware of the need for solace that the Christian experience provides, the acceptance of earthly suffering as a temporary struggle in hope of eternal release after death." (104) "The months van Gogh spent in Arles brought great progress in his work. For Gauguin's room, he painted a portrait of the postman Roulin's wife rocking a baby cradle, which he intended to flank on either side with two sunflower paintings, forming a triptych of pious devotion, the portrait recalling the Madonna's devotion to the baby Jesus and the sunflowers (recalling the myth of the flower following the course of Apollo's chariot across the sky) symbolizing devotion to God." (104) "The same evening, however, after the two argued at a local cafe, van Gogh became agitated, and for an unknown reason, he mutilated himself by cutting off a portion of his ear. They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.'" (143) "But if we date the painting to July 7 - 10 (the matter is uncertain), it would correspond to a letter in which van Gogh described the canvases he was currently painting as 'vast fields of wheat under troubled skies,' painted to show 'the healthful and restorative forces that I see in the country' - a perspective consistent with van Gogh's representation of wheatfields in more than forty other works painted from 1888 to 1890." (161) "Art critics. Van Gogh's positive view of death is clear in his rendition of another painting, done earlier at St. Rèmy, Wheatfield with a Reaper (1889, plate 11), which depicts a reaper cutting his way through a field of bright yellow wheat under a blazing golden sun and a sky flooded with light. But there is nohting sad in this death, it goes its way in broad daylight, with a sun flooding everything with a light of pure gold.'" (164) "While many have argued that the painting Starry Night indicates van Gogh's rejection of Christianity and the supernatural, his observation (often quoted in conjunction with essays on Starry Night) that 'When all sounds cease, God's voice is heard under the stars.' actually comes from the heart of his 'evangelical period,' 1877, and reflects a lifelong spiritual conviction." (172) "'It is a very good thing that you read the Bible .

The second premise is false, for the motion picture is remarkable and since it is about Vincent Van Gogh and his spectacular figure, everyone and everything else is shadowed, diminished by the towering presence. Indeed, in one scene, when he is talking to The Priest, who also has the role of establishing if the painter can be released from the hospice, Vincent Van Gogh is asked about his painting. If he was rejected by those who lived in his age - with exceptions, because Gaugain and others have been able to see the immense quality of his paintings - his work is now celebrated and it is probably impossible to say that another artist is "better". As a religious man, also passionate about his work, his calling, Vincent Van Gogh must have found ecstasy while painting. In another remarkable production, with Kirk Douglas as Vincent and Anthony Quinn as Gaugain, the part in the life of the glorious painter where he tries to live in squalor, in a mining town, and become a priest for the poor and destitute is given ample space.

A book of Van Gogh's works with his comments about them from his letters would be a fine project for someone to take up.

However, Erikson provides much needed balance to the unfortunate and prevailing view that Van Gogh's rejection of organized religion somehow negates the spiritual vision that inspired his greatest paintings.

I recently viewed a fabulous Van Gogh exhibit in Chicago, but it didn't touch on some of this history of his faith journey outside of is brief education in the seminary -- the story I experienced at the exhibit actually fell into the "misconceptions" category.