Last week we celebrated the return of the daffodils; this week I’m all about irises. I’ve noticed the ruffled puffs of white floating here and there around town and they reminded me of this beauty of van Gogh’s. A product of his Arles period, van Gogh painted the irises while battling mental instability, as a patient of the St. Remy asylum. Wandering through their spring gardens, these drew his eye and brush.
I’m so glad because if any flower deserves glory these do. However their usual rendering is pallidly romantic. These are ravenous irises, marching across the canvas. Their leaves like sworded tongues seem intent on devouring the cobalt blooms. The petals of the flowers in motion, waggle and chatter nervously back and forth.
The rigorous twist of the flowers is calmed by a horizontal three part structure, brown earth at bottom, green/blue irises middle, yellow field a top. An angled thrust of blue irises though the earth section keeps things interesting, by giving us the feeling that we have just come upon this scene. It’s not staged like past still life representations.
Waving a white flag, a fair iris stands in lone opposition to the fray. A message of peace perhaps. To savor tranquility, before the sun’s heat takes all.
I rounded a corner on the fifth floor of the MOMA and low and behold what did I spy with my little eye? Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Blinked my eyes twice and yes it was still there. Heard a woman ask a proctor “Is this the real thing?” Yes lady it is.
This painting moves you; it sweeps you up in its staccato paint strokes and deposits you well above this mortal plane. Vincent Van Gogh is in certain angst, having committed himself to a mental institutional at this time. He hasn’t sold paintings. His failures overwhelm him and he struggles alone with mental illness. Yet in the middle of this swirl of a breaking mind and heart you get this. It’s a testament to any of us rising above our crazy mental state and creating something beyond.
“Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant.” Van Gogh’s own words at this time in his life.
I don’t recall too many impressionists trying their hand at night scenes, being mostly obsessed with the light and all. So I am fascinated with this night time landscape which creates so much drama. This sleepy scene is anything but peaceful. The stars pulsate, the wind howls and the cypress tree writhes upward from the ground. We are swept into the sky.
Instead of succumbing to this madness however, I succumb to the beauty.
His paintings along with Picasso’s have garnered the most money. The last one privately sold for over $90 millon. He shot himself in the chest and died in 1890.