In this, Van Gogh channelled his faith – a freer, less socially-conservative form of Christianity than the one he identified with his upbringing, but one nonetheless anchored in “moral, spiritual, and sublime beauty” – and a profound and purposeful love.
“I’m always inclined to believe that the best way of knowing God is to love a great deal,” he wrote to Theo. “Love that friend, that person, that thing, whatever you like, you’ll be on the right path…But you must love with a high, serious intimate sympathy, with a will, with intelligence, and you must always seek to know more thoroughly, better, and more.”
This love he extended to strangers and family alike, but in particular to Theo, his most cherished correspondent and sibling, as well as to Johanna, and to their son – his nephew and namesake, Vincent Willem van Gogh.
In his final letters to his brother, the artist’s mental anguish is clear. By late July 1890, he is, he writes, “faltering” and concerned he is a “danger”. He describes his now famous series of landscapes capturing “immense stretches of wheatfields under turbulent skies”. “I made a point,” he continues, “of trying to express sadness, extreme loneliness”.
But it is not, in fact, these turbulent skies that conclude his correspondence. It is, rather, thoughts of “the little one”, baby Vincent. It is his sense of what is “healthy and fortifying about the countryside”. And it is a description and sketch of the artist Daubigny’s garden, which he has been painting for the third time.
“Foreground of green and pink grass, on the left a green and lilac bush and a stem of plants with whitish foliage. In the middle a bed of roses. To the right a hurdle, a wall, and above the wall a hazel tree with violet foliage. Then a hedge of lilac, a row of rounded yellow lime trees. The house itself in the background, pink with a roof of bluish tiles. A bench and three chairs, a dark figure with a yellow hat, and in the foreground a black cat. Sky pale green.”
Words by Eliza Apperly