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Occasional Painting — The Fields

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

By Vincent van Gogh

The Fields
Oil on canvas, 50.0 x 65.0 cm.
Auvers-sur-Oise: July, 1890

This image was taken from Sotheby’s website.

From fridge magnets to Kleenex boxes, Vincent van Gogh’s images are famous throughout the world. Some of his works, like Sunflowers, or Starry Night, or even his self portraits, have been used to symbolize a whole manner of things, from depression, to joy, to the beauty of the natural world, to the terrible march of progress.

As I’ve stated before in these Occasional Painting posts, once an artist reaches the dizzying heights of fame (often posthumously), their works become less about artistic merit, and more about how much they’re worth. It’s inevitable, I suppose, and a lot of it has to do with age. A child’s scribble is only worth something to the parents, but a well-preserved, 1,000 year-old child’s scribble is priceless.

But when it comes to Vincent van Gogh, the prices become astronomical. His The Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million in 1990, and is still one of the most expensive paintings ever auctioned (its exact whereabouts are, today, unknown). So it is no surprise that The Fields is expected to easily make $34 million, and many people believe a fierce bidding war will drive the price much higher then that.

It is interesting to note the story being sold along with the picture. David Norman, executive vice-president of Sotheby’s, has described the painting in this way: “Here is an artist literally on the verge of taking his life and filled with tremendous despondency, yet he is still painting with lemon yellows, azure blues and emerald greens.” Thus, the work, which is a fine example of a van Gogh landscape, takes on another layer. Not only is it a good painting, but it is also a moment in time; the last-ditch effort of a troubled, brilliant artist to make the world seem bright and cheery, capturing the beauty he saw around him, while fighting the demons within his own mind. This isn’t just a work of art — it sums up everything about the man in a way that only brushstrokes can.

But then again, I thought that’s also what Sunflowers did, and Starry Night, and all of his self-portraits, and all of his other works! And let’s ignore for the moment, the fact that The Fields is one of about 23 paintings he completed in the last month of his life.

While the corporate world has turned van Goghs and Picassos and Leonardos into marketing tools, Sotheby’s and the dealers/sellers who let Sotheby’s sell their stuff are able to profit off the fact that it is cool to have a genuine van Gogh on your wall. I would argue that Vincent van Gogh is no longer a great artist, he’s a brand unto himself. He, or at least, his myth, has moved beyond art into a category shared by only a handful of other artists. And the Cult of Vincent van Gogh doesn’t show any signs of ending anytime soon.tniapcco llewopemearg

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