It is in my inquisitive obsessive nature that from time to time causes me to fall down a rabbit hole. It usually starts with book or an essay I have read. With the Internet at arms length the rabbit holes are unavoidable. So it was that in the last two weeks I have fell down a Vincent van Gogh rabbit hole. Not the art though you cannot have one without the other, no I am talking of the man and more precisely the letters.
The letters I discovered by accident when stumbling upon this website and specifically the collected letters section. I started reading them as one would peer into said rabbit hole to see what they could see and just fell helplessly down and I have yet to completely find my way out.
What can I say about this treasure? It is first a collection of prose rivalling the greatest of works written anywhere else, the emotion, the insights, It is if he cut himself and bled the words on to the page with ever letter. I started at the beginning and have methodically made my way side by side Vincent as he failed everything he ever tried until he discovered painting and even then he only sold one painting in his lifetime.
I am not good enough writer to truly capture what his letters have meant to me. So I will stop here except to reflect on one more thing, the wonderful letters I am writing about are due to a number of fortunate factors. 1. Vincent was very lonely where ever he went and wrote a lot, mainly to his brother Theo. 2. His brother Theo was a collector and hoarder and so has many hundreds of his letters that Vincent wrote to him 3. Theo’s wife cared for them and after Theo and Vincent died she methodically catalogued and published the letters for us to enjoy.
And so this is my lesson to share today, that what many of us assume as history or fact is only known to us today through the diligent methodical capturing of thankless people. Jo van Gogh, Theo’s wife could quite rightly destroyed the letters and had bad feelings on losing her husband but she did not and better still she shared it with the world.
Full many a flower born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert airElegy written in a country churchyard by Thomas Gray
History hangs on a thread and it is dependent on the unseen, unrewarded documenters. Vincent’s sister-in-law is one such desert flower. So much of what we call fact and important were captured by collectors who when assembling them knew not of their importance but did it anyway. So although the rabbit hole I fell down is almost entirely about the genius and simple beauty of a human called Vincent. I wanted to think about Jo and how this desert flower had the foresight and fortitude to assemble such an incredible body of work in these letters.