Time Machines have always fascinated me. It would be a thrill to climb in one, check the destination, and bravely push the button that would transport me back to the late 1880s to Arles, France. My dream would be to meet Vincent van Gogh. I’m sure he would be quite surprised to see me appear before him and want some answers. I imagine I could probably find him from dawn to dusk out in the countryside at his easel busily painting the wheat fields, wearing a straw hat to shade him from t he hot sun. Or maybe in his room doing another self portrait. How in the world can a person paint so many self portraits of himself? I certainly would ask him that. What a thrill it would have been to sit beside him as “The Starry Night” was born, although he painted that when he was in an asylum at Saint-Remy in 1889. I’m not sure I would be comfortable there. I would like to ask him about his first painting of “Starry Night Over the Rhone” and what gave him the foresight of painting the reflection of artificial light from Arles, in the river making your eyes move around the painting and keeping you visually involved. I understand that this was new to the time period. He chose such brilliant colors at this stage of his life and I would certainly ask him how he can paint so freely his broad strokes and be so loose. I find it hard to do that and tend to tighten up and be more contained. It would be exciting if he would sit down and give me a few tips on how to lighten up and really put some passion into a painting. When I was in my 40’s, I found a copy of his windmill painting, titled “Le Moulin de la Galette” in a magazine, and framed it. I felt elated to have a “painting” of Vincent’s hanging on my studio wall. Recently I discovered he did at least six paintings of the same windmill in different settings. Another favorite painting of mine is “The Bedroom,” created in Arles. Maybe this is due to the artwork’s simplicity, or the bright colors he used. But I think it is because I can picture him there, sleeping, after a tiring day of painting in the fields. He seems more human in a setting like that. Van Gogh was quite prolific, painting over 2000 artworks, consisting of around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. The sad fact is that he didn’t become famous until after his death. In his lifetime he sold only one painting, for 400 francs--”The Red Vineyard”--to Anna Boch, a painter and art collector. Now his work sells for millions of dollars. He would be surprised to hear how well his paintings were selling. I would be delighted to tell him that his portrait of Dr. Gachet’s sold for $82.5 million. He would think I was some crazy person talking nonsense. If only he knew how well his paintings are loved and admired. If I asked how he managed to paint all that he did in his short life span, his answer would be, according to a letter written to his brother Theo: “The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can’t put it off, I don’t care for anything but the work; that is to say, the pleasure in something else ceases at once and I become melancholy when I can’t go on with my work. Then I feel like a weaver who sees that his threads are tangled, and the pattern he had on the loom is gone to hell, and all his thought and exertion is lost.” I reluctantly get back into the Time Machine, and head back to 2015, humbled and awed. I hope some of Van Gogh’s talent has rubbed off on me during this short visit. I so want to be able to paint sunflowers like him. Or even better, to use his gifts as inspiration to continue doing what is “an absolute necessity for me,” as well.
Shirley Vogelsong is a founding member of our Society, and currently lives in Foxdale Village. This essay was written during their writing group. When asked, who, past or present, she would most like to meet, Shirley decided that van Gogh would be her choice.