Vincent van Gogh's "Still-life with Two Sacks and a Bottle"
If someone were to make a list of the most important artists who ever lived, without a doubt, at the very top would be Vincent van Gogh. There were other, talented and influential artists that lived and worked alongside him, so why has van Gogh risen to the top as the quintessential master of the brush stroke? The answer is simple. It was his brilliant ability to be able to translate his mind onto canvas. When others were painting objects, van Gogh painted his emotions, his thoughts, desires, and pleasures and, by his paintings, we have come to realize his immense genius and, also, his torments.
Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands to Anna Carbentus and Theodorus van Gogh, a pastor descended from a long line of servants of the cloth. This tradition inspired young Vincent to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in religious life, ultimately, only to fail. But these thoughts of religion, God, and his soul someday residing in heaven, were always prevalent and lingering in the back of his mind. His paintings were often a revelation of what heaven would be like if it were here on earth.
At the age of 15, young van Gogh was forced to quit school in order to help support the family. He spoke four languages and was said to be very well read for being from such an impoverished family. During adolescence, he went to work for an uncle in Paris. Now, if his uncle had a grave digging business, van Gogh may have been a grave digger, however, his uncle worked for the largest art gallery in Paris. How serendipitous! He was surrounded by beautiful oils and prints from the masters for 12 hours a day!
In 1880, after several failed careers and love affairs, van Gogh announced to his beloved brother Theo that he planned on becoming an artist. His ever faithful brother, despite being 4 years younger, encouraged and even supported him financially and emotionally throughout the remainder of his life.
With the death of his father in 1885, a tormented Vincent returned to France. Here, his love life was as tortured as his state of mind. Yet, he finally found love, if not contentment in life itself, in his painting. During the next five years, he was to bring forth several hundred vibrant masterpieces….the timeless fruit of his one true love.
Still Life with Two Sacks and a Bottle , which was painted 1884-1885, depicts tobacco and wine of which he had a love affair with both….they were to him heaven on earth. There are two sacks of tobacco, one standing upright ready for use and the other lying leisurely in the forefront. A box of cigars is open in the center inviting the smoker to indulge himself and a bottle of wine, still corked and ready to be savored, stands along with the tobacco. Notice in the very background to the far right, almost behind the cloth drape, is the obscure binding of a book. Is it the Bible? His lust for worldly pleasures had always been overseen and predominated by his overwhelming religious upbringing. Adding to this argument is the fact that a bible is featured prominently in a contemporaneous work now residing in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The artist plays with colors in this painting. The dark colors were chosen specifically as a philosophical statement. He toys with the senses with splashes of green, blue and red. He was a visionary in his art and this was never more evident than in this work….every stabbing stroke was a personal letter to us. His wish was to open the viewers’ eyes and hearts. He wanted people to feel his art.
On July 29, 1890 he dies in the arms of his brother Theo as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest two days earlier. His demons had finally won. Theo, devastated by his beloved brother’s death, never recovered from the loss and he too joined his brother in death only six months later. They lay side by side in a grave in Auvers-sur-Oise Ile-de-France Region, France.
All of us in the art world owe our utmost thanks and gratitude to Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the widow of Theo and sister-in-law of Vincent. At the death of her husband, she inherited the remainders of Theo’s shop including virtually all of Vincent’s artwork. That is, what remained of his work, for his mother, in her grief, threw away crate after crate of his paintings and drawings thinking they were total lunacy.
Theo’s widow, on the other hand, organized exhibitions and opened her home for viewings. In fact, the remainder of her life would be devoted to the promotion of Vincent van Gogh – her fatefully famous brother-in-law.
It was hard going at first–people laughed at Vincent’s work. The critics were skeptical at best, but in the end her writings and her persistent, visionary advocacy fanned the Vincent flames. She typed and revised the Theo-Vincent letters, finally publishing many of them in Dutch in 1914. When she died in 1925, she was still working on letter 526.
Vincent van Gogh’s wish in life was to open his mind and his heart to the world and he did this through his paintings and in this, he was a success. His wish was fulfilled and we bow to his genius.
Letter to Theo van Gogh from The Hague (21 July 1882)
What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. With a hand shake, ever yours, Vincent
This work is extremely reasonably priced at $5,985,000. Also, please click here to read an excellent article from the well-respected Deutsche Welle (Dutch World) newspaper discussing the relevance of art as an asset class.
If you have the means to obtain this painting, then don’t hesitate. You may never have another opportunity like this again in your life.