Five of Vincent van Gogh’s olive tree paintings are on loan to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They make up a small exhibit along with several etchings. The viewing space is intimate with lighting picking up the texture of the paint strokes on canvas. Only a handful of people are present at any one time which encourages an inclination to linger rather than to leave.
Everyone knows van Gogh as the genius with mental illness. The man whose brush techniques and color combinations made his work vibrate with energy. I did not realize he started his artistic endeavors late in life nor that he was so prolific.
Largely on the basis of the works of the last three years of his life, van Gogh is generally considered one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time. His work exerted a powerful influence on the development of much modern painting, in particular on the works of the Fauve painters, Chaim Soutine, and the German Expressionists. Yet of the more than 800 oil paintings and 700 drawings that constitute his life’s work, he sold only one in his lifetime. Always desperately poor, he was sustained by his faith in the urgency of what he had to communicate and by the generosity of Theo, who believed in him implicitly.Britannica
Insight into his state of mind can be gleaned from the many letters he wrote to his brother Theo. His brother gave him the freedom to pursue his calling. It’s hard to say how a brother can be so devoted to his sibling. Vincent tried to support himself as an art dealer, a language teacher, a bookseller, and a lay preacher. As he stumbled along, fighting with mental illness, his brother chose to support him unequivocally.
Perhaps Theo did this entirely out of family obligation. We all have duties to our blood ties. It sounds more likely that he had some sense about his brother’s brilliance. Fortunately, he lived in a time when he had the freedom and capacity to provide support. In a short run accounting, van Gogh would have been a liability- taking the long view, as perhaps Theo did, Vincent was a rainmaker.
Freedom trumps utility as the latter isn’t always readily apparent. Each couple or group or society must decide where to place their backing. Those on the outside are inadequate at doing the math or evaluating either short-term or long-term returns.