If there is one part of Vincent Van Gogh’s life that has always interested me then that is his relationship with artist Paul Gauguin.
Gauguin was also a post impressionist artist (and I will be covering some paintings by him as well).
He met Van Gogh in Paris in November 1887, and they quickly bonded. When Vincent moved to Arles in 1888 and
bought rented the Yellow House there, he invited Gauguin to come stay with him for a few months.
Vincent was so excited that he bought new furniture and painted new pieces to decorate his house. One of the paintings that he did was Bedroom in Arles, and the other two included Gauguin’s chair and Vincent’s chair.
But just like their relationship, the two chair paintings also depict a light-and-dark scenario.
About Gauguin’s char and Vincent’s chair
The clear contrast in these two paintings is done by Van Gogh to depict the different personalities of both the artists. While Gauguin’s chair is more luxurious with cushion padding, Van Gogh’s chair is more simple and basic.
There is a candle and modern novels placed on Gauguin’s chair, depicting that the chair was painted in the night, whereas Van Gogh’s chair is done during the day with sunlight brightening up the space.
The colour contrast between the two is also quite evident with Gauguin’s chair done in dark green and blue tones, and Vincent’s chair done in bright yellow colours.
In fact, even now when the paintings are exhibited together they are placed in a way that the chairs point away from each (like in the picture above) to depict their contradicting personalities.
The big fight which ended it all
Van Gogh persuaded Gauguin to come visit him in Arles for several months, from August to October, to be exact. While waiting for him, Van Gogh painted over 50 paintings just to decorate his studio and impress Gauguin.
In Van Gogh’s letters, he revealed that he was rather intimidated by Gauguin. It was like Gauguin was calling the shots and Van Gogh had to follow the orders, which of course, didn’t work for long.
On the other hand, Gauguin claims he was annoyed with Van Gogh because he spent all his budget on prostitutes and liquor. (Classic artist move, Van Gogh)
Continous rains for several days lead to the two artists to be in the same house together for far too long and a fight erupted. Gauguin claimed that he tried to go out but Van Gogh came after him with a razor (though Van Gogh never said he did that).
Gauguin eventually left and it made Van Gogh so depressed that he cut his own ear. And that’s not all, he then walked to a brothel and offered his ear to a prostitute. All drenched in blood, he came back home and slept.
Next day, he was found unconscious by a policeman and taken to a hospital. It affected Van Gogh so much that he did a self portrait of him with a bandaged ear.
My thoughts about Gauguin’s chair and Van Gogh’s chair
To be honest, I was more amused by the story behind the painting than the painting itself. Its difficult to find friendship in your contemporaries, and looking at Van Gogh and Gauguin, I cannot help but feel sorry for both of them.
They were two of the greatest artist we have ever seen and they could have taught each other a lot. May be if their friendship and partnership bloomed Van Gogh might not have died an year after the fight.
This makes me wonder how we are still so competitive against our contemporaries. Instead of learning from people around us, we want to get past them, and ‘defeat them’. But what we don’t understand is the fact that its we who are losing.
Whatever might have gone down between the two artists, the truth is they are both remembered together now, their paintings are placed in the same sections of the museums, and appreciated in the same way.
The sad part is, they could never resolve their fight. They did send each other a letter once, but they never met again as Vincent died in 1890. Here is an excerpt from the last letter that Vincent sent Gauguin
Thanks for writing to me again, my dear friend, and be assured that since my return I’ve thought about you every day.