Mercure de France, January, 1890
Beneath skies that sometimes dazzle like faceted sapphires or turquoises., that sometimes are molded of infernal, hot, noxious, and blinding sulfurs; beneath skies like streams of molten metals and crystals, which, at times, expose radiating, torrid solar disks; beneath the incessant and formidable streaming of every conceivable effect of light, in heavy, flaming, burning atmospheres that seem to be exhaled from fantastic furnaces where gold and diamonds and similar gems are volatilized--there is the disquieting and disturbing display of a strange nature, that is at once entirely realistic, and yet almost supernatural, of an excessive nature where everything--beings and things, shadows and lights, forms and colours--rears and rises up with a raging will to howl its own essential song in the most intense and fiercely high-pitched timbre: Trees, twisted like giants in battle, proclaiming with the gestures of their gnarled menacing arms and with the tragic waving of their green manes their indomitable power, the pride of their musculature, their blood-hot sap, their eternal defiance of hurricane, lightning and malevolent Nature; cypresses that expose their nightmarish, flamelike, black silhouettes, mountains that arch their backs like mammoths or rhinoceri; white and pink and golden orchards, like the idealizing dreams of virgins; squatting, passionately contorted houses, in a like manner to beings who exult, who suffer, who think; stones, terrains, bushes, grassy fields, gardens, and rivers that seem sculpted out of unknown minerals, polished, glimmering, iridescent, enchanting, flaming landscapes, like the effervescence of multicoloured enamels in some alchemist's diabolical crucible; foliage that seems of ancient bronze, of new copper, of spun glass; flowerbeds that appear less like flowers than opulent jewelry fashioned from rubies, agates, onyx, emeralds, corundums, chrysoberyls, amethysts, and chalcedonies; it is the universal, mad and blinding coruscation of things; it is matter and all of Nature frenetically contorted . . . raised to the heights of exacerbation; it is form, becoming nightmare; colour, becoming flame, lava and precious stone; light turning into conflagration; life, into burning fever.
Such . . . is the impression left upon the retina when it first views the strange, intense, and feverish work of Vincent van Gogh, that compatriot, and unworthy descendent of the old Dutch masters.
Oh! How far are we--are we not?--from the beautiful, great traditional art, so healthy and very well balanced, of the Dutch past. How far from the . . . de Hooghes, the van der Meers, the van der Heydens and from their charming canvases, a bit bourgeois, so patiently detailed, so phlegmatically overfinished, so scrupulously meticulous! How far from the handsome landscapes, so restrains, so well balanced, so timelessly enveloped in soft tones, grays, and indistinct haze, those . van Ostades, Potters, van Goyens, Ruisdaels, Hobbemas! . . . How far from the delicate, always somewhat cloudy and somber colours of the northern countries . . . .
And yet, make no mistake, Vincent van Gogh has by no means transcended his heritage. He was subject to the effect of the ineluctable atavistic laws. He is good and duly Dutch, of the sublime lineage of Frans Hals.
And foremost, like all his illustrious compatriots, he is indeed a realist, a realist in the fullest sense of the term. Ars est homo, additus naturae, Chancellor Bacon said, and Monsieur Emile Zola defined naturalism as "nature seen through the temperament." Well, it is this "homo additus," this "through a temperament," or this molding of the objective unity into a subjective diversity, that complicates the question and abolishes the possibility of any absolute criterion for gauging the degrees of the artist's sincerity. To determine this, the critic is thus inevitably reduced to more or less hypothetical, but always questionable, conclusions. Nevertheless, in the case of Vincent van Gogh, in my opinion, despite the sometimes misleading strangeness of his works, it is difficult for an unprejudiced and knowledgeable viewer to deny or question the naive truthfulness of his art, the ingeniousness of his vision. Indeed, independent of this indefinable aroma of good faith and of the truly seen that all his paintings exude, the choice of subjects, the constant harmony between the most excessive colour notes, the conscientious study of character, the continual search for the essential sign of each thing, a thousand significant details undeniably assert his profound and almost childlike sincerity, his great love for nature and for truth--his own personal truth.
Given this, we are thus able to infer legitimately from Vincent van Gogh's works themselves his temperament as a man, or rather, as an artist--an inference that I could, if I wished, corroborate with biographical facts. What characterizes his works as a whole is its excess . . . of strength, of nervousness, its violence of expression. In his categorical affirmation of character of things, in his often daring simplification of forms, in his insolence in confronting the sun head-on, in the vehement passion of his drawing and colour, even to the smallest details of his technique, a powerful figure is revealed . . . masculine, daring, very often brutal . . . yet sometimes ingeniously delicate . . . .
|And how could we explain that obsessive passion for the solar disk that he loves to make shine forth from his emblazoned skies.|
Source: Van Gogh: The Passionate Eye by Pascal Bonafoux (Discoveries, 1992)