“Loving Vincent” is a flick about Vincent Van Gogh made entirely of paintings done in his thick paint, swirly, expressive style. There are 65,000 paintings in all, each done on glass plates. The plates were first placed before the filmed of the costumed cast members, reducing drawing time dramatically, and making it possible to make this movie with just 125 and not, say, the 10,000 artists it would have taken to cover an area the size of London or Manhattan if each plate were laid out in the original size. All this adds up to an unusual experience and a total immersion in the visual world of the artist. But there’s more.
The film could have suffered significantly from the flaw that plagues musicals, whose stories often serve as an excuse for the next number. Loving Vincent’s story line, however, is not so thin. Its basis is writing that challenges the initial contention that Van Gogh committed suicide.
The movie opens with the postman possessing a returned letter addressed to Vincent’s brother Theo. He recruits his son Armand to hand deliver the letter. Armand soon finds that Theo is dead, so he looks for an alternative. The film is a series of interviews of the people who knew Vincent, all portrait subjects, interviews that further what turns into an investigation of the death of the artist. As things unfold we are provided a picture of the life of Vincent as well as his death, some interviewees corroborating the suicide theory, while others leave us doubting that verdict.
Several issues emerge that lead us to question the suicide conclusion. Having pulled that trigger you would have left black powder marks on your clothes and hands, and the accounts show conflicts in that regard. Also we are told of the persistent ridicule and bullying by town youths, any one of which could have had motive, perhaps even the one who later confessed to mistreating Vincent in his youth. Then there is Vincent’s state of mind. “Loving Vincent” is what Van Gogh wrote in each of his letters to his brother Theo, with whom he had a close relationship. Thus Vincent was not entirely alone and unloved by family, and he was close to some of the interviewees as well.
There are several other observations of interest. First, Vincent wrote, “I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say: he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.” Are those the sentiments of someone who would end his own life? Perhaps but perhaps not. Second, Vincent’s lack of commercial success could certainly contribute to his perception of self-worth. However Monet, the most famous of painters, had recently highly praised Vincent’s art, and Vincent sold a painting, his first. Third there is the odd location and angle of the lethal wound. People who attempt suicide with a gun usually go for the head not the stomach. None of these observations are conclusive of course, but there is certainly enough to cloud the official verdict, and to give substance to what would otherwise be an art slide show with an excuse for a story.
The colored images flicker in a way that other animations I have seen do not, adding an element of visual intrigue to that surrounding conflicting images of Vincent’s life and death. They also add an element of brain fatigue. Fortunately the flash backs in black and white give much-needed rest for the eyes.
This is a unique film about a unique man making unique art. Check it out – and stay through the credits. You’ll be treated to Lianne La Havas’s deep toned charming rendition of Starry Starry Night.
A friend and I went to Auvers-sur-Oise, which is not too far from Paris. It is here that Vincent Van Gogh lived his last months. While he lived in this town Van Gogh did a painting of the church, now one of his more famous paintings among the 800 he squeezed into his short life. Here is my rendition, in memory of this man who contributed so much to art and who received so little in return.
The first of the following drawings I did at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which displayed a photo of a young Van Gogh. This and other early photos are a stark contrast to the gaunt and haunted look of Vincent’s later self portraits, which are widely seen. Here is a more rare glimpse of the man.
In case you need a touching moment, here’s Lianne’s rendition of Starry Starry Night. Don Mclean gave light to this song that will live as one of the most touching eulogies of all time, whose disturbed mind gave us so much beauty, so much innovation.
After a few days in the Latvian countryside, Kuldiga being of most interest, we hopped the bus taking us from Riga to Vilnius, the only Baltic republic we have yet to visit. It’s a four-hour drive in the cold gray weather through flat, unremarkable countryside. A few days later I had to make a return visit, having left my Italian passport on a pharmacist’s counter. It was waiting for me at the Italian embassy in the heart of the old town. It was just as uneventful.
The Baltic countries do not get much attention in US history classes but there is much of value and interest. We’ve been to the Ducal Palace, reconstructed on site and now offering a rather detailed story of the country, much more important up to the 1800’s than it is now. But the people here have Russia very looming on their borders, a Russia whose history of occupation dates to around 1700, with but a brief respite between the wars before the occupation resumed as the Nazis retreated. In their world view, the history of their relationship with Russia is not a side-show, of course, nor is the past respect shown them by other European nations. I expect to post more on this.
The University of Vilnius is just a few minutes from our plain vanilla apartment. I have posted some photos of the delightful, on the one hand, and strange art on the other hand, here University’s mural and fresco.
Not far from us as well is the Vytautas Kasiulis Art Museum, home of the paintings of Lithuania’s most famous painter, who came to light in Paris after escaping from his home country subsequent to the Soviet takeover. It is art worth seeing. His paintings are what I would term transitional, bridging the gap between the figurative and the abstract. Over time he increasingly removes references to the substance of the image until he gets to the essence, still figurative but just a tad away from abstraction. These photos are from the museum that bears his name, Vytautas Kasiulis
The old town section is, like that of Tallinn and Riga to the north, is a World Heritage site and the main attraction.
No visit to any of these countries would be complete without a visit to what the locals call “The Dark History,” referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. Here as in Riga you can visit the Gestapo/KGB head quarters for a look at this grim period. It does not seem that the extent of spying on its citizens compares with what happened in East Germany, but the torture, imprisonment and deportation to the sparsely populated areas of the Soviet Union are, and they’ve well documented in the museum. The museum visit includes the dank cellar with its torture, isolation and execution chambers.
I’ll have some notes on the more cherry subject of the hope-you-like-pork cuisine – and what other observations I might have about the culture, such as the dearth of beauty parlors. They have salons where you can get your hair combed out, though.
We are hours away from leaving. There is a special city filled with a special people, who threw off the yoke of Soviet rule, after having been invaded by the Nazis then crushed by the Soviet system, with just 20 years of freedom between the wars. Before that it was the Russia Empire. No wonder they worry about Putin, and made nervous by Trump. The Baltic countries are small, on their own unable to fend off a nation as large and well armed as Putin’s Russia. We need to have their back.
Their separation from the Soviet Union is chronicled in the Museum of the Popular Front, in what was its headquarters on Vespilcetas iela 13/15, a building worth visiting on its own merits. With the loosening of controls under Gorbachev, the Front
elected pro-independence delegates to the Soviet assembly
got recognition of the illegitimacy of the Soviet/Nazi pact of 1941
organized protests including the unbroken human chain that extended from the far end of Lithuania all the way to the coast at Tallin, Estonia, a total of 600 km /375 miles
organized barricades in the event of a crackdown after the one in Lithuania.
It is not just this heroic moment that endears me to this city, country, people. It’s the art, it’s the way they have all acquired a second language, these days mostly English by choice (German and Russian are also officially taught), not the edict of a foreign power.
It’s also the architecture, especially the Art Nouveau for which the city is famous:
I like the fashion
The food is less doughy than St Petersburg and much less expensive than Stockholm!
The most fabulous potato pancakes ever! They were fried in bacon, so no wonder. I will need a new liver by the time I get out of Latvia, though.
And the people are more open, friendly than in St Petersburg.
More Latvia posts to come, and I hope to return, in the better weather.
Here’s another cuisine surprise – Swedish is more than meatballs and pickled herring. And even these plebeian offerings are delightfully presented.
The cuisine centers around sour cream and other cultured dairy products. The grocery stores packed huge blocks of cheese and rows and rows of yogurt, Kefir and I don’t know what.
They make gorgeous breads, hearty, seedy, crackery. Mighty fine!
Deserts are a delight. There are lots of fruit deserts as well as creamy and there are lots of cookies.
Watch out for your purse in the cafes, though. Our first cappuccino, espresso and basic cookie cost us $20.00. Eating out is everywhere through the roof. This is a soup eating culture – a bowl will easily run you $10. They make thick fruit soups including rose hip and blueberry. Lingonberries are made into a jam and served with various dishes. It is on the bitter side, not as bitter as cranberries though. Dishes are prepared with butter and margarine, although you can get olive oil in the markets but these are not traditional. Fish is plentiful and not too crazy expensive if prepared at home.
Oh, did I mention that the Swedes have a sweet from time to time?
Alcohol. There’s plenty and it’s taxed highly so the $2 bottle of Spanish wine is $12 (not that different from what you’d pay in the US). Some of that is from transport costs but largely it’s tax, the government’s way of trying to discourage excess consumption. I suppose things might be worse if they didn’t, but the Swedes are known for weekend binges. Have a glass during the week, though, and you might raise eyebrows. The day-to-day is beer. You can buy beer in grocery stores if 3.2% or less. Everything else comes from the state-run liquor stores.
Few people associate Swedish cuisine with the world’s finest, and it might not be, but it’s no slouch either, and their chefs are very well-trained even in inexpensive places. As Joel Gray put it in Cabaret, in Sweden, “Even the orchestra is beautiful.”
Just a two hour flight from St Petersburg and an hour to Riga, Stockholm is built upon a scad of islands (17 in all) with a wealth of architecture set against a slew of harbors, lakes and canals, with much fine exterior decor as well as art, history and more in its many museums. The most famous of its museums is not about art – the Vasa Museum contains the 17th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage, leaving behind a storehouse of information about its time.
Most important structures show foreign influence as French and Italian architects were brought in during the 18th century. Simon de la Vallée designed the Riddarhuset, the House of Knights . His son Jean de la Vallée and the German-born Nicodemus Tessin became a leading architect with buildings such as Södra City Hall , Axel Oxenstierna Palace , Katarina Church , Stenbock Palace, and Wrangelska Palace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_in_Stockholm
City Hall is the site for the Nobel Prize banquet, except for the Peace Prize which is awarded in Norway. The structure is in the style of the Italian Renaissance, though it was built in the early 20th century. It’s interior is astounding, by far the most impressive of the city and competing favorably with others of its ilk in other countries. It’s a fitting venue for the Nobel Prize award dinner, that it seats 3000 or so being a minor advantage. The Queen of Lake Mälaren mosaic is my favorite piece in the hall. The guide said it is in the Byzantine style, but I do not see it that way, having never seen anything quite like her and finding little in common with the Byzantine aside from the gold mosaics.
These mosaics were made in panels in Germany. There are some 8 million tiles, the gold sandwiched between each one before it is attached to the panel.
Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city, dates from 13th c, shows the influence of the architecture of northern Germany. It retains the narrow medieval streets of the small island.
In 1697, the Castle of the Three Crowns was severely damaged in a fire, replaced by the Castle of Stockholm.
Stockholm’s many waterways make for a natural charm to contrast with man-made beauty.
Art Nouveau Architecture
It would not be at all surprising if you were not sure what constitutes Art Nouveau. Literally the term means “New Art,” new being relative to around 1890 (lasting to about 1910). Part of the problem arises from the diverse terminology used to refer to that general style. The Czech term is Secese, Danish Skønvirke or Jugendstil, German Jugendstil, Art Nouveau or Reformstil, Hungarian Szecesszió, Italian Art Nouveau, Stile Liberty or Stile floreale, Norwegian Jugendstil, Polish Secesja, Slovak Secesia, Russian Модерн (Modern), Swedish Jugend. These various countries produced variations on the general theme and can be difficult to categorize. Here are some photos of the Swedish version.
I’ll add posts on the cuisine – surprisingly good- as well as the museums, also excellent. Even without those added delights, and the friendly English speaking populace – you’d swear you were talking to Americans – Stockholm is a great visit.
The main style of building in Riga is Art Nouveau. There are more buildings in this style in Riga than anywhere in the world, making Riga a major destination for aficionados of the style. Here are some excellent examples of what you can see here. I’ll be posting more of both exteriors and interiors. Often these buildings occupy an entire street, making it even more impressive. We saw interiors at the Rich Art Nouveau Museum.
These are fun and creative animations of paintings hanging in the Errata Museum (Contemporary Art, St Petersburg Russia) which we visited recently. You see about several paintings. The second is an installation, not an animation. Enjoy!!