was [van Gogh's] favorite color...symbol of that
light of which he dreamt in hearts as well as in
paintings." —Émile Bernard,
30 July 1889
yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter
from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul,
which detested fog. A craving for warmth."
—Paul Gauguin, 1903
Imagine for a moment "a different light,"
a "stronger sun," yellow fields of sunflowers,
"immense meadows all abloom with countless
buttercups—a sea of yellow." In a yellow
house amidst this radiant setting of the Provencal
French town of Arles place two artists—one
a failed minister (because of his extreme empathy
for the oppressed) the other a failed stockbroker—for
a mere nine weeks in the last months of 1888. Two
artists embarking on a journey which laid the foundation
for much of modernist art to follow, especially
Expressionism and Abstraction. Each had dreams of
an artists' community; van Gogh was planning a "Studio
of the South" with its headquarters in the
Yellow House in Arles, a stop on the way to Gauguin's
ideal "Studio of the Tropics." But this
utopian dream quickly turned to tragedy, so much
so that their shared short time (though to Gauguin
it "seemed like a century") is commonly
called "Tragedy in Arles."
van Gogh arrived in Arles from Paris on February
20, 1888, and stayed until May 8, 1889. This fourteen-month
period in Arles was the dawn of his meteoric maturity
(which lasted all in all only two years and four
months). Intensely productive, it yielded over 200
paintings and as many letters, in addition to hundreds
of drawings and watercolors. Of this period, the
time between October 23 and December 26 spent with
Paul Gauguin is the most difficult to reconstruct,
yet the most resonant for the history of modern
art. While van Gogh was in the habit of writing
his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, almost
daily before Gauguin arrived, we have only thirteen
letters from the entire nine weeks the two artists
spent together, and only three of these from the
ten days leading to the legendary self-mutilation
by van Gogh. By necessity we are forced to rely
for details of that event mainly on the account
Gauguin constructed 15 years later (three months
before his own death) for our story. And this account
is admittedly written for posterity and to set the
record straight in his mind, or as he put it, "to
put an end to a false rumor that has been going
around in some circles" which blamed the "insanity"
of the "two van Gogh brothers" on him.
did van Gogh choose Arles, this city in the south
of France with its rich and still visible history
dating back to its founding in 46 BC by Julius Caesar?
He would write later to his brother that there were
"a thousand reasons," among them, "[w]ishing
to see a different light" and a "stronger
sun." Even today, one feels dizzy from what
van Gogh called "the gravity of great sunlight
just as unsettling and even oppressive is the commingling
and clashing of what seems like the whole history
of Western civilization—the imposing Roman
arena (which was still being used for bullfights
in van Gogh's time), the Roman theater and Gothic
churches and monuments interspersed in what Gauguin
called "the filthy" contemporary city,
surrounded by sublime nature. It was and is a place
that exudes civilization, brutality (in the ominous
arena which stands almost next to the train station)
and beauty (in the tree-lined streets and surrounding
yellow fields which still recall van Gogh's paintings).
Gogh arrived in the snow, as seen in early works,
such as Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background.
But the snow gave way to spring and to the buoyant
blossoming of the orchards, the subject of fourteen
paintings done in April alone. For van Gogh, "everything
is at once reality and symbol." These works
symbolize spring, rebirth and, in their inclusion
of fences, also paradisiacal enclosures or Gardens
of Eden. In these he took over the characteristics
of Impressionism, the avant-garde movement to which
he had recently been exposed in Paris. Working from
nature as the Impressionists did, he also employed
their visible brushwork, respect for the surface
of the canvas, and compositional randomness. But
he went further. Through his use of saturated complementary
colors and quick succulent brushwork he seemed to
strip away the Impressionist cloak of air and light
in order to uncover an inner light, which in keeping
with his Christian background, inhabited all of
nature. Of the intended symbolism of his brushwork
and complementary colors, he wrote: "I am always
hoping to make a discovery there..., to express
the love of two lovers by a marriage of two complementaries,
their mingling and their opposition, the mysterious
vibrations of kindred tones....To express hope by
some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance."
than the Impressionists who relied on observing
nature, van Gogh felt that he was actually in it
or part of it, even "making love" to it.
In countless letters, he describes his feeling of
being "in the growing grass, in the blossoming
orchards, in the flamelike striving cypresses, in
all that was sensitive and kind in his sitters,
in empty chairs, and in the glorious sun, stars
and heaven above him." He called nature "his
spouse," and "his beloved."
Gogh's entire oeuvre was predicated upon "active
melancholy," an idea formulated in a letter
of July 1880 (called his "moral manifesto")
to his brother, after being tormented about his
dismissal from Christian service as a lay preacher
because he took over the tragic plight of the miners
to whom he preached. He cared for them too much.
His asked: "How can I be of use in the world?...Can't
I serve some purpose and be of any good?" He
finally decided, despite his alienation, he must
not give in to despair—he must still "love"
and "act." He must bestow upon everyone
and everything the selfless love that Jesus represented
to him, and obey God's commandment to "love
one another." He wrote, "all my paintings
are a cry of anguish," and "all that I
seek in my paintings is to make life bearable."
"effort[s] to make life bearable" extended
to others, including the conflicted Paul Gauguin,
whom he had met and exchanged paintings with in
November 1887. When he heard of Gauguin's physical
and financial troubles in early March 1888, van
Gogh set about trying to help his fellow artist.
To Theo, he writes, "I want two things: I want
to earn as much as I have already spent, so as to
give it [back] to you, and I want Gauguin to have
peace and quiet in which to produce, and be able
to breathe freely as an artist." Soon his salvation
was linked with his hopes for a brotherhood of artists
who would live and work together in "peace
and quiet." Its beginning would be a partnership,
both financial and artistic, between himself and
in contrast to van Gogh's Christ-like agape
assumed another stance toward the world—that
of separation and retaliation. After feeling rejection
on many fronts—artistic, familial and societal—Gauguin
intentionally "hardens his heart." He
wrote to his wife Mette in August 1886, "My
heart is as dry as the table and now that I am hardened
against adversity, I think only of work, of my art...it
is still the only thing that does not betray us."
Gauguin took on the guise of God the creator; to
"create like our Divine Master" was his
is hard for late twentieth century eyes to see the
difficulties and hardships artists who are such
household names as van Gogh and Gauguin could have
felt, but at the time they were experimenting with
the most revolutionary ideas in art. Late twentieth
century minds imagine Braque and Picasso, the creators
of Cubism, as the "mountain climbers"
in their venture to overthrow the old ways of painting.
However, the innovations made by Gauguin and van
Gogh—painting from memory and the imagination
and using the symbolism of color and form to go
beyond mere mimesis—were crucial for the modernist
movements to follow. Cubism itself, though stylistically
dependent on late Cezanne, was grounded in the philosophy
and aesthetics of van Gogh (whom Picasso worshipped)
and Gauguin (whom Picasso studied). Just because
van Gogh and Gauguin are now admired and revered
the world over and have been commercialized beyond
what they could ever have imagined, the terrain
they were exploring in art after Impressionism was
Gogh seemed more aware of the dangers of the journey
and of the possible losses along the way when eschewing
the great traditions in art. He wrote to Theo, "He
who dances must pay the fiddler. I'm afraid, Theo,
that many who have sacrificed the old for the sake
of the new will end by greatly ruing this, especially
in the domain of art." Van Gogh felt it would
be easier to work together with other artists, nostalgically
writing of a time when "painters, authors,
artists, who were united, notwithstanding their
differences, were a force. They did not walk in
the dark but possessed this light:....The one supported
the other; there was something strong there."
he had confidence in the lasting value of his work:
"I cannot help it that my pictures do not sell....The
time will come when people will see that they are
worth more than the price of paint and my own living—very
meagre, after all—that are put into them....my
debt is so great that when I have paid it, the pains
of producing pictures will have taken my whole life
from me, and it will seem to me then that I have
not lived." Gauguin, on the other hand, was
confident without reservation. "I know I am
a great artist," he wrote. For each a utopian
Studio of the South or of the Tropics offered hopes
of solace and artistic freedom.
renting on May 1, 1888, four rooms in the legendary
Yellow House, van Gogh began to picture it as the
Studio of the South. Because of its "very poor
condition," it served first not as living quarters
but as studio space. He wrote almost immediately
to Theo, "Perhaps Gauguin will come south?"
if to demonstrate his worth to Gauguin, van Gogh
worked at a frantic pace. In the week of June 13-20,
van Gogh produced his harvest paintings. He wrote
to his friend Émile Bernard, a painter and
art critic, on June 26: "I am writing to you
in a hurry...greatly exhausted...by a morning in
the fields. The landscapes yellow—old gold—done
quickly, quickly, quickly and in a hurry, just like
the harvester who is silent under the blazing sun,
intent only on his reaping." The Sower
is a prime example of what University of Virginia
art historian Lydia Gasman has shown to be his Johannine
principal themes—light, love, and life. Van
Gogh describes the sky in The Sower
as "chrome yellow, almost as bright as the
sun itself." Throughout his art and writings,
van Gogh equates light with Christ as selfless love.
For example, in The Raising of Lazarus, he
painted a glowing sun in the place of Jesus, clearly
equating the Son with the Sun.
Van Gogh also makes this connection in reference
to the Sower: "I am still charmed by the magic
of hosts of memories of the past, of a longing for
the Infinite, of which the sower, the sheaf are
symbols—just as much as before."
days later, van Gogh learns Gauguin's plans to join
him in Arles. He believes his vision will finally
become a reality. Of course, van Gogh's excitement
ignored Gauguin's motives—his debts which
Theo's art sales had helped to absolve, and also
the offer of room and board for paintings, which
would allow him time to work and save for his own
dream of returning to Martinique and starting
his own "Studio of the Tropics."
Gogh immediately began improvements to the Yellow
House and planned a series of six paintings of sunflowers
to decorate Gauguin's room. These would show his
gratitude to Gauguin for joining him in Arles. Van
Gogh wanted his sunflowers to give the effect "of
stained-glass windows in a Gothic church" from
which "the raw or broken chrome yellows will
blaze forth on various backgrounds." Sunflowers,
the closest plant analogy of the Sun, were symbolic
not only of "gratitude," but also, as
"torches or candelabra," of his philosophy
and quest for light.
September 16, van Gogh slept in the Yellow House
for the first time, and "feel[s] very happy
in it." About this same time, to consolidate
his feelings of communion with the artists he admired,
he wrote Bernard and Gauguin in Pont-Aven to suggest
that they send him portraits of each other. Instead
they sent self portraits dedicated to Vincent. Gauguin
said of his Self Portrait: "Les misérables,": "it is the face of an outlaw, ill-clad and powerful like
Jean Valjean...whom society has oppressed, cast
out....[I]s he not equally a symbol of the contemporary
impressionist painter?" Appropriate to all
accounts of Gauguin's fiery personality, "the
face is flushed, the eyes accented by the surrounding
colors of a furnace fire...to represent the volcanic
flames that animate the soul of the artist."
And in defense of his own "abstract symbolic
style," he compares the "line of the eyes"
to "the flowers in a Persian carpet."
He finishes the symbolic description: "In endowing
him with my own features I offer you—as well
as an image of myself—a portrait of all wretched
victims of society who avenge us by doing good."
van Gogh saw, on the other hand, was "a prisoner.
Not a shadow of gaiety....Gauguin looks ill and
tormented.!" Of his Self Portrait Dedicated
to Paul Gauguin,
van Gogh writes: "I also exaggerate my personality,
I have in the first place aimed at the character
of a simple bonze worshipper of the Eternal Buddha."
Comparing himself earlier in the summer to the fifteenth
century Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes (who went
mad and entered a monastery): "like [him] I
have a kind of split personality, being both something
of a monk and a painter." If in the "flushed"
face and burning eyes Gauguin's volcanic powerful
and determined personality shine through, we see
in van Gogh's deliberately slanted (Eastern) eyes,
shaven head and staid countenance the ascetic monk.
The strokes of lighter green form a halo around
his "ashen" face, and his rough coat becomes
a religious robe held together by a ceremonial brooch.
Gogh the "monk" and "painter,"
Gauguin the "outcast" and "avenger"
would soon meet. Van Gogh in the meantime was getting
more and more anxious, writing in mid-October: "My
whole mind...is set on Gauguin now. It is high time
that he came."
October 23, Gauguin arrived. It was a crisp, fall
night. After "wait[ing] for dawn in a little
all-night café" (where the proprietor
recognized him from the self portrait he had sent
van Gogh), Gauguin set out to meet van Gogh.
long anticipated Studio of the South began on an
optimistic note. Gauguin later remembered the Yellow
my yellow room, sunflowers with purple eyes stand
out against a yellow background; the ends of their
stalks bathe in a yellow pot on a yellow table....And
the yellow sun, coming through the yellow curtains
of my room, floods all this flowering with gold,
and in the morning, when I wake up in my bed, I
have the impression that it all smells very good.
two artists at first shared models and city and
landscape motifs; van Gogh did the shopping and
Gauguin the cooking. Although a seemingly idyllic
arrangement, Gauguin in his account hints at the
coming tragedy, "Between two such beings as
he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling
too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing."
He lamented the "disorder" in which van
Gogh lived, yet gives van Gogh some credit as well:
"In spite of all this disorder, this mess,
something shone out of his canvases and out of his
talk, too. Daudet, Goncourt, the Bible fired his
harmony quickly turned into discord. By mid-November,
the artists in the Yellow House were no longer working
and eating together. Their personalities clashed,
and their fundamental artistic differences became
more pronounced. Gauguin was committed to conceptual
work and urged van Gogh to follow his lead. And
although he tried at first to paint in a manner
that would make Gauguin happy, van Gogh could not
change his own reliance on nature. Lydia Gasman
best pinpoints their radically different temperaments
reflected in their art:
guided by the principle of talionic retaliation—a
tooth for a tooth—rejected, that is annihilated
in his conceptual and imaginative symbolist art,
observational realities b/c, in life, they appeared
to reject him. Van Gogh, guided by lofty moral ideals—by
a Christ-like forgiveness—on the contrary,
accepted, that is mirrored in his version of symbolism,
the observed and heightened realities of the external
world, where in his life, he chronically experienced
alienation and the despair it entails.
of the two artists' chairs by van Gogh done in mid-November
reveal these differences and foreshadow the events
which followed. Why did van Gogh choose as his subject
the chairs and not the men? Perhaps Gauguin, described
as "a man to be placated rather than aroused,"
intimidated van Gogh, as he did Bernard who earlier
could not fulfill van Gogh's request to paint their
mutual friend. But even more, the two empty and very different chairs reveal the artists' widening psychological
and artistic differences. Van Gogh did later tell
Albert Aurier that "in the days before their
separation," he painted Gauguin's "empty
place," thus confirming his fear of Gauguin's
dreaded departure. Van Gogh fills this "empty
place" with two books and an erect burning
candle, representative of the two poles of his admiration
for Gauguin—his mental powers and his physical
and artistic virility. Still another candle surrounded
by a halo of light glows on the wall in the background.
This one looks like one of van Gogh's stars, symbolic
of cosmic places where souls blissfully live after
Gogh's chair in contrast is a plain "wooden
rush-bottomed chair all yellow on red tiles against
a wall." It is a straight-backed peasant chair,
heavy, clumsy and rough in comparison to the elegant
comfortable armchair of Gauguin. Instead of resting
like Gauguin's does on a rich oriental rug, van
Gogh's is placed on a bare floor evocative of his
asceticism and monk-like aspirations. Instead of
a lit candle standing in the seat, he places only
an extinguished pipe and crumpled tobacco pouch.
Here the empty seat seems to be a death wish, nourished
by his fear that Gauguin is going to leave him.
The coffin-like coal box in the left background
with "Vincent" written upon it, indicative
of the cage of his imprisonment and alienation,
seems to make this connotation of mortality unavoidable.
And yet the onion sprouting from the box symbolizes
the renewal of life. It is as if van Gogh sees the
writing on the wall that Gauguin will leave and
he will perish.
Portrait of Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers,
finished on December 14, was for van Gogh the devastating
proof of the artists' growing estrangement and of
Gauguin's crushing control over him. In this work,
van Gogh with eyes closed and lethargic body, slouches
back into the right side of the picture, a weak
hand holding a thin feeble brush. The sunflowers
reflect not the radiance and power emanating from
van Gogh's paintings, but they droop like the artist's
body and brush. In this way, Gauguin ungratefully
subverts the meanings the sunflowers held for van
Gogh—gratitude, light, life and hope. If van
Gogh suggests the full physical and artistic creative
powers of Gauguin in Gauguin's Chair,
Gauguin castrates van Gogh in this work. All signs
suggest impotence. It seems a direct attack on van
Gogh, as if Gauguin is claiming for himself all
the glory of being the inventor of Modernism, of
being the greater artist by deliberately inverting
or rendering powerless van Gogh's greatest strengths
and subjects. Gauguin's overly zealous attempt to
prove in his 1903 Intimate Journals
his own status as the greater artist and teacher
of the younger, less mature van Gogh confirm this
interpretation. Upon seeing this painting, van Gogh
said, "That is me, all right, but me gone mad."
his madness and asserting his sanity and sanctity,
van Gogh wrote (according to Gauguin) "with
his yellowest brush, on the wall, suddenly purple,
'Je suis sain d'esprit; Je suis le Saint-Esprit'/
'I am of healthy mind; I am the Holy Spirit.'"
very evening we went to the café," recounts
Gauguin. "He took a light absinthe. Suddenly
he flung the glass and its contents at my head."
The next morning Gauguin threatened to leave.
did, however, attempt several days later to reconcile
by going together to the Fabre Museum in Montpellier
to see the collection of Alfred Bruyas. But instead,
the "terribly electric"
arguments become even more heated. Gauguin's favorite
work was Courbet's The Meeting: Bonjour Monsieur
Courbet of 1854. He liked it so much
that he created his own version, Bonjour, Monsieur
Gauguin in 1889. Gauguin identified with
the authority and power displayed in Courbet's painting.
But in Gauguin's version, the artist's authority
and power are not recognized. A fence separates
him symbolically from the others. Even the Breton
woman in the painting rejects him and walks away.
Gogh, on the other hand, favored Delacroix's Alfred
Bruyas of 1853, a painting which features
not the artist-hero but the charitable "benefactor
of artists." To Theo (Dec. 1888), van Gogh
wrote, "Bruyas was...like you and me...another
brother." Van Gogh, as "painter and a
priest," again identifies with one who helps
this failed trip—utopian hope continually
thwarted—van Gogh worried about Gauguin's
impending departure. Sometime between December 17
and 23, van Gogh handed Gauguin a piece of paper
torn out of a newspaper which read, "the assassin
has fled." The reference to Gauguin was transparent.
Gogh's agitated state continued to increase. He
could be found looming over Gauguin in the middle
of the night, and his actions and emotions became
more and more unpredictable. What had begun as a
light-filled Yellow House of promise became a dark
and stifling prison.
the evening of December 23, Gauguin during his after
dinner walk suddenly heard from behind "a well-known
step, short, quick, irregular. I turned about on
the instant as Vincent rushed toward me, an open
razor in his hand. My look at that moment must have
had great power in it, for he stopped and, lowering
his head, set off running towards home." (The
first account Gauguin told Emile Bernard just after
the incident did not mention the razor until the
ear-cutting incident.) Gauguin that night took a
room in a hotel. The next morning a swarm of people
and police were surrounding the Yellow House. Gauguin
described the scene:
Gogh went back to the house and immediately cut
off his ear, very close to his head. It must have
taken him some time to stop the flow of blood, for
next day a number of wet towels lay about on the
stone floor of the two ground-floor rooms. The blood
had soiled both rooms and the little stairway which
led up to our bedroom. When he was well enough to
go out, with a Basque beret pulled way down over
his head, he went straight to a house where, if
you can't find a girl from your hometown, you can
at least find someone to talk to, and he gave his
ear, carefully washed, and sealed in an envelope,
to the man on duty. "Here," he said, "in
remembrance of me."
Gauguin the "assassin"? His own account
tells of the commonly held assumption that he literally
was because at first it was thought that van Gogh
was dead, and that it was Gauguin who killed him.
"Anger, indignation, grief, as well as shame
at all these glances that were tearing my person
to pieces, suffocated me...," Gauguin later
Gauguin's role in the drama is far from simple.
Just two days after the mutilation, leaving Arles
on December 26 with Theo, he attended an execution
by decapitation of a criminal outside of a prison
in Paris. He was struck by the crowd shouting: "'Long
live the assassin! Down with justice!'" This
led Gauguin to meditations on the problem of justice:
"And after all what are the feelings of justice
which motivate the State's legislation, if not feelings
of interest?...What after all is the right to punish,
if not the right conferred by force?" He chastises
"today's society" as "barbaric and
cruel," and above all "hypocritical"
because it "supposedly act[s] in the name of
Christian morality." Gauguin seems to have
identified with the "assassin," yet he
wondered if he was the victim or the criminal.
immediately Gauguin began a chilling series of ceramic
self portraits of decapitated and bleeding heads,
such as Jug in the Form of a Head, Self-Portrait
(Jan. 1889). It is impossible not to link his
witnessing the guillotine just four days after finding
Vincent lying unconscious in a blood-stained Yellow
House with this decapitated earless head. It is
just as difficult not to read this work as a confession
of Gauguin's identification with, and compassion
for his friend.
of Gauguin as a Grotesque Head similarly
embodies great pain. He here is the "accursed
artist" who has been through "trial by
fire." Even the material underscores its meaning.
He wrote to Bernard, "The character of stoneware
is that of a very hot fire, and the figure which
has been scorched in the ovens of hell is I think
a strong expression of character. Like an artist
glimpsed by Dante on his tour of the Inferno. A
poor devil all doubled up to endure his pain."
This work helps us see the complexity of Gauguin's
own role and his difficulty in becoming the hardened
artist he felt it necessary to be. For example,
a year after the fateful cohabitation with van Gogh,
he writes to Bernard what seems to be a verbal equivalent
of this work: "despite all my efforts"
to become "ice-cold and absolutely without
feeling....I simply am not; my primary nature keeps
welling up, like the Gauguin of the pot, the hand
shriveling in the furnace, the cry which longs to
contrast to these agonizing self-portraits by Gauguin,
and at roughly the same time, van Gogh painted Self-Portrait
with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (Jan. 1889).
This work, a document of his Christ-inspired self-sacrifice,
also proclaims his self-determination and enhanced
artistic power. The sturdy brown pipe, now filled
with yellow and red fire and emitting solar strokes
of smoke which encircle his head like a halo to
move up and off the canvas, is antithetical to the
limp and extinguished one on his chair he had begun
not quite two months earlier, (and was again working
on mid-January). His face, wrapped in a white bandage,
also glows in lighter shades of yellow, tan and
brown. His emerald eyes echo the color of his massive
green coat, which is closed by a circular button
highlighted with tiny piercing rays of gold. These
eyes are assured, searching and strong. They are
even more powerful because on their exact same line
a field of fiery red bisects the canvas. He paints
the area above the red in a golden orange which
becomes lighter, brighter and more yellow at the
top of the painting. The white collar is like that
of a priest, and the blue hat with sharp strokes
above his eyes looks like a crown of thorns. The
"priest and painter" is back.
kept painting furiously for the next (and last)
one and a half years of his life, masterworks whose
quality does not suffer from his own suffering.
He spent most of this time in the asylum in St.
Rémy (which he voluntarily entered on May
8, 1889). Even his plan to send Bernard and Gauguin
paintings of La Berceuse flanked by two paintings
of sunflowers to make a triptych, so that "the
yellow and orange tones of the head will gain in
brilliance by the proximity of the yellow wings,"
reveals his undiminished and unchanged artistic
quest. And when he was consecrated as a "giant"
by G.-Albert Aurier, in "Les Isolés:
Vincent van Gogh," the feature article in the
January 1890 Le Mercure de France, van Gogh
immediately defers to Gauguin, responding that in
comparison to Gauguin he will be "very secondary."
his mental anguish and struggles, van Gogh completed
what amounts to a canvas a day in the last 70 days
he spent in Auvers-sur-Oise (20 miles north of Paris)
under the care of Dr. Gachet. And despite his hopes
that art could "make life bearable" and
that he could create "a consoling art for broken
hearts," his own heart could not be consoled.
On July 27, 1890, the struggle must have been finally
more than he could bear. Bernard writes, "Our
dear friend Vincent...[o]n Sunday evening...went
into the Auvers countryside, placed his easel against
a haystack and went behind the chateau to shoot
himself with a revolver....[H]e fell, but got up—three
times in succession—to return to the inn where
he lived without saying anything to anyone of his
as if trying to undo some of the wrongs of Van
Gogh Painting Sunflowers, described van
Gogh's last moments, (he died at 1:30 a.m. on July
29) "lying in his bed and smoking his pipe,
he died with his mind fully alert,
with love for his art and without hatred for mankind"
[emphases mine]. Émile Bernard on the day
of Vincent's funeral, Wednesday, July 30, provides
the most moving and glowing description of the final
the walls of the room where his body lay all his
last canvases were nailed, forming something like
a halo around him and rendering throughout the brilliance
or genius which shone from them....On the coffin
a simple white drapery and masses of...sunflowers
which he loved so much, dahlias, and yellow blossoms
everywhere. That was his favorite color if you remember,
symbol of that light of which he dreamt in hearts
as well as in paintings.