More than 40,000 people visited and admired the sunflower labyrinth that was created to celebrate the opening of the new entrance building of the Van Gogh Museum on Museumplein. High up from a photo deck, they looked over the 125,000 sunflowers that made up this magnificent labyrinth and enjoyed singer-songwriters who performed in the labyrinth. All the sunflowers were given away for free after 4 p.m. on Sunday and in no time, the Museumplein and the whole of Amsterdam turned yellow.
Axel Rüger, Director of the Van Gogh Museum: “The opening weekend of our new entrance building was a great success. Even though the weather let us down, very many people came to enjoy the sunflower labyrinth these two days. We are extremely pleased with people’s enthusiastic reactions to our new entrance that is now very accessible and welcoming to our visitors. This spacious, transparent entrance building, with its state-of-the-art glass constructions is a major asset for the Van Gogh Museum and the Museumplein.”
Vincent van Gogh took his own life in July 1890. He felt he couldn’t go on. The immense demands he made of himself, his obsessive labour, his mental illness and, not least, his changing relationship with his brother had all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. How did it go so wrong?
Vincent had been lodging in Auvers at the inn run by the Ravoux family, who had grown accustomed to him setting off each day to work in the surrounding countryside. On 27 July, he failed to return for his evening meal. Knowing Vincent’s punctuality when it came to dinner, Mr and Mrs Ravoux and their daughter immediately began to worry. Vincent staggered into the inn, badly wounded, around nine o’clock. When Ravoux asked what he had done, he replied: ‘I tried to kill myself’. Early next morning Theo was informed. He rushed from Paris to Vincent’s bedside, where he remained until his brother died the following night.
Two years earlier, life as an artist in Paris had left Vincent utterly drained. His prospects were gloomy and he was already experiencing thoughts of death, even though he was morally opposed to suicide. In 1888, Vincent moved south to Arles, hoping to make a fresh start. He yearned for jollity, sunshine and colour, and to found an artists’ community, his ‘Studio of the South’. His work might then have some value – something he desired more than ever.
Vincent’s Studio of the South never got off the ground. Gauguin left when his companion began to display the first signs of mental illness. Vincent suffered bouts of intense confusion, hallucinations and self-harm. His doctor diagnosed a combination of epilepsy and mental illness. The precise nature of his affliction is not known. Vincent first saw the vestibule of the asylum in Saint-Rémy in early May 1889. He had reached a low point in his life: being an artist meant he was already socially isolated, and on top of that, he was now labelled a ‘madman’. Some of his attacks lasted a week, some as long as two months. Vincent put on a brave face during his lucid phases, but in reality he was suffering panic attacks, nightmares and suicidal thoughts.
After a year, Vincent could no longer stand being in the asylum. He regained his equilibrium somewhat in Auvers, but storm clouds were gathering there too. Vincent felt profoundly threatened by Theo’s plan to open an art dealership of his own. On top of the painter’s general sense of failure, it meant his future was now uncertain; his brother would be less able to look out for him. In the end, he could see only one way out. The day after he died, Vincent’s body lay in the attic room in the searing summer heat, while Levert, the local joiner, hurriedly constructed a coffin. When it was delivered on 30 July, the artist was laid out in the Painter’s Room, which Theo and friends decorated with a selection of Vincent’s own works. The funeral cortège made its way from Auberge Ravoux to the churchyard on Wednesday 30 July, led by a grief-stricken Theo. He was followed by friends of the brothers from Paris, the Ravoux family, and neighbours and other villagers who had known the painter in Auvers. Vincent’s first grave was located close to the entrance of Auvers’ cemetery. His remains were reinterred in 1905. Theo’s remains (d. 1891) were placed beside Vincent’s in 1914.
If he could have seen how people behaved toward me when he had left us and the sympathy of so many for himself, he would at this moment not have wanted to die. Theo to his mother Van Gogh-Carbentus, 1 August 1890
Theo and his brother-in-law Andries (‘Dries’) Bonger sorted through Vincent’s paintings at the inn following his death. But which was truly his last work? According to Dries Bonger, what Vincent painted on the day he shot himself was a forest scene, ‘full of sun and life’: Tree Roots. The canvas is not entirely finished, and might have been intended as a kind of farewell note. Some of the elms are on the brink of falling from the limestone wall. Their roots have loosened already; their death is inevitable. Was Vincent sketching his own situation?
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Source: Van Gogh Museum
Images courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam