“The best way to know God is to love many things,” said Vincent Van Gogh.
Most of us know the sordid story of a lovelorn Van Gogh chopping off his own ear.
Yet Van Gogh’s original heartbreak didn’t come from a French prostitute or the estrangement from his fellow painter Paul Gauguin, but from the church.
The frayed narrative of Van Gogh’s crummy love life and repeated rejection at the hands of les femmes, ignores his original great passion in life – the ministry of Jesus Christ (or Jezus Christus in Dutch).
Vincent was a socially progressive and idealistic young pastor who clashed with the rigid respectability of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1878. Ministering to starving miners and roughnecks, he suffered along in complete solidarity – ill-fed, dirty, cold and ugly. The church at the time didn’t much care for his scandalous empathy and abruptly cut off all support.
With this, Van Gogh turned to art. Clearly not his first love, but he found the success he missed with the ladies and the church. Vincent was also shown the only acceptance and respect he would experience in this world from other painters, other than his brother Theo.
Speaking of the church he wrote to Theo, “I wish they would only take me as I am,” and expressed bitterness over his rejection.
We can’t know if Vincent would have kept his mind and both ears if his overseers had treated him compassionately, but the church’s loss has been the art world’s gain
Ironically, this failed missionary was considered to be blighted by an “excess de zele” that his family considered a type of schizophrenia. Perhaps it was. Vincent furiously hurled his great passion and energy into his work whether for God, the poor or with paint.
The same ardor that drove him to give away his supper produced piles of canvases and drawings. “Excess de zele” was also famously reflected in the quality and tone of his work. It’s been Van Gogh’s signature, immediately recognizable and setting him apart from all the artists before him.
Intensity, life, energy and raw human passion are common elements in Van Gogh’s paintings. He portrays sorrow and loss as well as a tender concern for the suffering and degraded. Vincent was no elitist. He remained humble but couldn’t overcome his depression and disappointments in life, in spite of a deep knowledge of God and his early devotion.
Few are aware of another common theme in Van Gogh’s work: traditional Bible subjects. There’s a good reason for this – museums, galleries and art historians hide them. Honestly. According to expert William Havlicek, author of “Van Gogh’s Untold Journey,” openly religious works by the master are treated like dirt.
During a 100-year retrospective in 1990, paintings with Christian themes were “hidden in the basement” of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum so that 1.5 million viewers (that year alone) never saw them.
Havlicek must have cracked the cellar somehow and dug them up. Mark Ellis offers a peek at the repressed works in a review of Havelicek’s book. Some look more suitable for sermon backdrops than the absinthe swilling cafes Van Gogh was reported to haunt.
Strikingly, Havelicek charges that Van Gogh’s massive personal correspondence (more than 900 known remaining letters) has been similarly spiritually cleansed.
“Many of his religious letters were held back and only released in the last five or six years,” Havlicek noted.
In a letter to fellow painter Emile Bernard two years before his death, Van Gogh was clearly obsessed about things spiritual. It reads like an evangelist’s stream of consciousness in places, with dozens of references to scripture or biblically based paintings by other artists.
“Have you ever read the life of Luther?” Van Gogh quizzes his friend. “Because Cranach, Dürer, Holbein belong to him … the lofty light of the Middle Ages.”
Van Gogh had his issues with the Bible’s wars and tragedies – as well as bitterness over his own life. But he claimed the consolation it contains: “Like a kernel inside a hard husk, a bitter pulp – is Christ.”
Lauding his Savior to Bernard, Van Gogh drew an “artist greater than all artists” whose spoken words become “a creative force, a pure creative power.”
This appears to be unmentionable in most art schools.
One letter alone manifests that a great many of his paintings refer to Christ, as he extols, “What a sower, what a harvest, what a fig tree.”
Those repeated themes in his work through his short life give us insight. Of the Bible Van Gosh exulted over the gospel of Christ, who “among all the philosophers, magicians, &c. declared eternal life … to be the principal certainty.”
Van Gogh is most renowned for the surging energy he put into paint, yet the world has been trying to ignore where that energy came from and whom it referenced. Certainly the brilliantly unusual forces most viewers pick up may have something to do with the transcendent God he never stopped believing in. God was the object of Van Gogh’s grand obsession – far more than his lovers or even his art – “the necessity and the raison d’être of serenity and devotion,” in his own words.
Apparently an artist’s true motivation or theme has no value unless it parallels secular ideology at this point. Vincent’s paintings stand on their own virtues regardless, but the extent of deliberate misinformation is shocking.
Van Gogh is still victim 125 years after his death of a global slander campaign via omission and deceit. Art historians and curators may read his voluminous correspondence as easily as anyone else, but they have been cowards about the man. Instead their politically correct narrative of a drug addled, madman with a taste for prostitutes is foisted on the public
Such “scholars” are the arts world’s version of the National Inquirer or People Magazine. Mentioning only a few moral failures while pointedly ignoring a man’s voluminous statements is a hoax, juvenile pandering to fellow God haters.
“I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed,” Van Gosh wrote to his brother in 1876.
Of course no one has ever heard of that, nor his lamentation that “for the moment, my talks about Him leave much to be desired, but it will get better with His help and blessing.”
Not fitting the modern narrative of the hip, tortured aesthete who rejects God – they just make it go away.
Repression against Christian theme and thought in Van Gogh’s work is a disingenuous and sinister at best. Those who do this revise history or even create a new false one. They are shoddy scholars and bigots who work similarly to anti-Semites.
We’ve arrived at the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death this year, and all the stops are pulled out across the Netherlands and elsewhere to promote his work. This time will they honor him by showing the real Vincent Van Gogh? The one who called Jesus an extraordinary artist who made living men “immortals” and declared this fact should be taken seriously, “especially because it’s the truth”? The Van Gogh you may have never heard of.
Exhibit: “Van Gogh in the Borinage: The Birth of an Artist” (Jan. 24-May 17) Musée des Beaux-Arts, Mons, Belgium. Curator Sjraar van Heugten researched Van Gogh’s missionary period when he lived among poverty-stricken miners there (1878-1879) to make this show.
SOURCES: VanGoghLetters.org / William Havlicek, Ph. D., “Van Gogh’s Untold Journey” / the Art Newspaper / David Paul Kirkpatrick / Mark Ellis, “Van Gogh’s Unappreciated Journey with Christ”