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Vincent's Life

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Jerry Romanek In Dr. Paul Gachet's drawing of "Van Gogh on his deathbed", Vincent is shown clean shaven without a beard and moustache. In the 37 Van Gogh self-portraits only 3 show Vincent as clean shaven (F 527, JH 1657, F 529, JH 1658 and F 525, JH 1665). His last 3 self-portraits (F 626, JH 1770, F 627, JH 1772 and F 528, JH 1780) have Van Gogh shown with a beard and moustache. Is there an inconsistency here or was Van Gogh shaved during embalming? Dr. Jan Hulsker comments.

Gwendol Bowling adds: "[Jerry Romanek's] final question: Is there an inconsistency here or was Van Gogh shaved during embalming? brings up an interesting point, that of embalming. Page 144 of the Paschal Bonafoux book VAN GOGH : From his coffin, which was badly made, oozed a stinking liquid, everything about this man was terrible. The cure had refused the hearse, another had had to be obtained from a neighbouring village. The coffin, according to Adeline Ravoux's account at the coffin was made by the next door neighbor. There was no mention of embalming. The Ravoux document is quite interesting. As a thirteen-year-old, she probably was taking down and placing in memory each minute detail with great accuracy. Did she write anything further, that we know of? She definitely takes Vincent out of the wheat field and places him nearer to the Chateau when he was wounded. She certainly makes her statements clear about Dr. Gachet. Furthermore, I can almost feel her shock with the account of the dispersal of the paintings after the funeral. As an aside question. She makes it clear that Vincent's shoulder was abnormal. Does anyone know anything about this?"

David Brooks I find the whole issue of the photographs taken of Vincent van Gogh himself to be quite interesting. Just how many photographs of Vincent are in existence? Have there been any recent discoveries? I take some time here to explore the photographs issue in some detail and, as always, I welcome additional information and comments. Jim Foley believe he might have discovered a new photograph of Vincent van Gogh. He provides details for discussion.

Isabelle Fenton adds: Jim should check out the USA Today article posted 2/23/2004 which says the same thing and references American scholars studying the photo.

Mandy writes:

Firstly I can't see a resemblance at all and it has totally the wrong feel. BUT who is that at the back? Isn't that meant to be Emile Bernard? If it is then, maybe I am not recalling this correctly, but I thought Emile Bernard and Vincent were not there at the same time?

Didn't Emile Bernard get thrown out before Vincent got there?

May have got that wrong but to know if it is him then the others in the photo need really to be determined if possible and then researched to see if they were there at the same time.

Yvonne from Lima, Peru Dr. Gachet seems to me most mysterious. There is something about him, mentioning a "final solution"; to Vincent's pain . . . . Tell me if I am wrong about this: I have the suspicion that Gachet sort of pushed Vincent's suicide. This idea jumped at me when I tried to imagine where a man like Vincent--in his conditions, with no friends, all alone, with no money, at the end of last century in a tiny town in France--should find firearms. David Brooks replies: I don't recall any "final solution" reference, but I do think that there are a lot of unanswered questions about Gachet, a man that Vincent himself called "sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much . . . ." (Letter 648).

George Goddard comments: There is a reference in Letter 637, which maybe, Yvonne saw that created her question: This passage is in the second paragraph: "He seems very sensible, but he is as discouraged about his job as a doctor as I am about my painting. Then I told him that I would gladly swap jobs with him. Anyway, I am ready to believe that I shall end up being friends with him. He said to me besides that if the melancholy or anything else became too much for me to bear, he could easily do something to lessen its intensity, and that I must not feel akward about being frank with him. Well, the moment when I need him may certainly come, however up to now all is well."

Michael I am looking for connections between the life of Van Gogh and Erik Satie, the French composer.

I am especially interested in the period during 1887 -- a year they both lived and worked in Montmarte and frequented the cafes there. Did they know each other? Did they ever meet? Were they aware of each other's work?

If there is no known friendship/acquaintance/connection between Van Gogh and Satie, then what other musicians might Van Gogh have known? Did he even like music, and if so, what kinds?

David Brooks comments: In the liner notes to the new CD, "Pictures at a Van Gogh Exhibition", John Leighton, director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam writes "In the hundreds of letters written by Vincent van Gogh . . . Vincent says little about music. But from the few passages we know, it is clear that he had a great appreciation for classical composers."

Dutch pianist, Marcel Worms, who compiled the music for the CD and performs each piece, goes into detail about the subject of Van Gogh and music and even includes some commentary on Satie.

Bruce Hutchison Bruce has two questions:

1. Does anyone know what prompted Vincent's reburial in 1914? Was it Jo, Theo's wife's idea? Do we know any details of the reburial. For example, was Jo's son, Vincent's namesake at the reburial?

David Brooks comments: There's surprisingly little information about Theo's reburial. Even Jan Hulsker's excellent book Vincent and Theo van Gogh: A Dual Biography makes no mention of it at all. David Sweetman's biography mentions the reburial in passing--only to say that Dr. Gachet's son was in attendance. While attempting to research this issue, I was surprised to find that Vincent was in fact reburied. The current location of his grave is not where Vincent was originally buried.

2. Does anyone have any idea where Vincent got the gun? Is it possible he stole it from Dr. Gachet? He may have had access to the house.

Ani Angelova comments: I read somewhere (I don't remember where) that Dr. Gachet had given Vincent the gun to scare away crows.

And also, in the full-version of the movie Vincent and Theo there was a scene showing Vincent threatening Dr. Gachet with a gun in his pocket, because the Dr. had forgotten to frame some pictures that Vincent had asked him to.

David Brooks adds: Interesting. I'd love to see that full version (it's supposed to be around six hours) of Vincent and Theo. I've heard it's only ever been seen in Europe.

I recently ran across one fleeting reference to the gun--in the book In the Footsteps of Van Gogh by Gilles Plazy: "He (Van Gogh) bought a gun in Pointoise. He took it with him when he headed back out to paint in the open air after lunching at the Ravoux inn on Sunday, July 27" (p. 39). This is the only mention I've ever seen and Plazy doesn't give a source for the reference.

Bob Harrison adds: In Wilkie's In Search of Van Gogh he quotes from Dr. Tralbaut's biography from the description of Vincent's death by Adeline Ravoux; she states that her father gave him the pistol; that morning to scare away crows from his canvas. I have not been able to trace a copy of The Tralbaut yet to confirm this statement. I also came across an interesting old book by Frank Elgar titled Van Gogh, (Fernand Hazan Paris 1958) where he quotes Tralbaut from a copy of Aesculape, Dec 1957, that Vincent shot himself in the groin, and not in the side or chest as generally accepted!

Garry Schaefer Garry was wondering about Van Gogh's last words:

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of attending a tour a the "Art in the Age of Van Gogh" at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This prompted us to record for viewing a day later the movie Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh. You can imagine our horror when we discovered that our tape of the two-hour movie ended just minutes before the final words of Van Gogh on his death bed. The movie had gone on minutes past the advertised end time. What were Van Gogh's last words?

David Brooks replies:

It's a fairly complex issue. I provide some background information.

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