At the heart of symbolism

A trip from north to south


Self-portrait at the age of 36 (Detail, Museum of Orsay, Paris)

From Holland to Provence

For centuries, artists have painted nature in all its states, from the darkest to the most luminous. Only Impressionists did not interpose any imaginary, mythical or symbolist veil between the painter and the surrounding world. They considered the colour as a way to catch light incidence. On the contrary, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) used it to let the communion of two souls gush out: his own soul and the surrounding nature one. Vincent gladly resorted to this pithy phrase: “Art is man plus nature”.

In fact, the being's development depends on the interactions of his own nature with the surrounding environment. His progression towards consciousness, from obscurity to light, is a function of the appropriateness of outer influences with his own inner possibilities (for more details, see Spirit & body). If it is the case, nature contributes to reveal the artist's soul and the artist participates in the unveiling of the soul of nature.

During his brief ten year career as artist, Van Gogh was looking for this appropriateness, this correspondence between himself and the surrounding environment. It consisted in a hopeless quest symbolized by the trip from the Northern low, gray and dark skies to the Southern open, coloured and sunny ones.

In the first period of his artistic life, Van Gogh entered the obscure world even in the collieries of the Borinage. He depicted exhaustion, pain and sadness linked to the miserable condition of the miner and peasant. He painted heads of peasants or still lifes in dark colours, brown, blue and blackish green.

The discovery of Japanese engravings and Rubens in Belgium, of Eugène Delacroix and Impressionism in Paris let him to research of a bright colour palette.

Great admirer of Jean François Millet, he left for South of France to discover the secrets of nature and life. A life that began in the majesty of the firmament and resulted in a tiny bunch of grass for everything in nature is akin to a same Principle, a same God. All wonders in the world have a symbolic force and relate back to their divine source.

Vincent wrote: “How Camargue and Grau, except for a difference in colour and limpidity, remind me the antic Holland from Ruisdael's time”, a painter who painted man alone right in the middle of nature. Facing the wonders of nature, the artist feels alone in front of his easel.

All his life, Vincent Van Gogh dreamt of sharing his passion for nature and his Creator. Very few shared that passion apart from his brother Theo. So, let us follow in the steps of the painter during his trip towards South to immerse ourselves in light and sun as he did.

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