As most people know, Vincent Van Gogh was a tortured individual. By the winter of 1888, had developed what he thought was a mutually beneficial professional relationship with fellow painter Paul Gauguin. Gauguin thought himself a superior artist and was also under the impression that the Van Gogh brothers were trying to exploit the wealthier man. A series of arguments and perceived slights by Gauguin to Vincent had caused Van Gogh to be more and more unstable mentally, which exploded in madness in December of 1888.
On that cold winter night in a hotel in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh used a razor to cut off his left ear. He packaged the severed ear and delivered it to his favorite prostitute (this is often mistakenly thought of that he cut off the ear for unrequited love for the prostitute). He was treated by local physician Félix Rey and to show his gratitude, Van Gogh painted Dr. Rey and gave the painting to the subject. Dr. Rey didn’t particularly care for it, and he used it to fix a hole in his chicken coop before giving the canvas away. In 2016 that painting is lovingly maintained at a Moscow museum and is valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000,000.
But I digress.
Vincent was encouraged by his brother Theo and others to seek help for his mental issues. He acquiesced and entered the St. Paul-de-Mausole asylum in May, 1889. From his cell in the in the hospital, he looked out his window and created this masterpiece:
If you are as Van Gogh obsessed as I am, I heartily recommend two interesting takes on the end of his life. The first is the wonderful novel “Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art” by Christopher Moore. Moore is a completely irreverent author who sets off with a pair of investigators that includes Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as they try to find the truth behind his supposed “suicide”.
The second is a magnificent film from last year titled “Loving Vincent”. This film was entirely hand painted in the mode of Van Gogh. The imagery is stunning.
This house was built in 1881 by Charles A. Dibble.
In 1930, artist Grant Wood was being driven around Eldon and they passed the house, now owned by Gideon and Mary Hart Jones. Wood was fascinated by the image of a Gothic-style window in what he felt was a fairly cheaply framed house, and he decided to use it in the background of a painting, along with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.” He did not choose the owners, the Jones, but, instead modeled the couple on his dentist and his sister. It is not, by the way, supposed to be a couple, but a father and daughter.
The painting was not initially well received. It was awarded a bronze medal at an art contest in Chicago and Wood won a whopping $300. With the onset of the worst part of the global depression of the 1930’s, the painting became seen as a celebration of rural America and the strength of its people. Some have postulated that the painting is funereal, given the closed curtains combined with the fact that the woman is wearing a black dress under her apron and appearance that she is holding back tears, but Wood, who died in 1942, never gave any hints to this nature of his work.
We had one player who figured out that this is the start of a small series:
Once upon a time, your humble contest admin here had the experience of standing in the presence of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”.
I was 21 at the time, home on Christmas break from college, and woefully uneducated in appreciation of art, but the Philips Collection was on tour and this amazing painting somehow ended up on exhibit for a couple of weeks at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. My best friend’s big brother, who we all looked up to, convinced a small group of us to go to the show.
Most of the paintings there were interesting, but not anything to hold a young man’s attention. Then I turned the corner and saw this massive canvas. I was completely transfixed, transported into the scene. You could almost smell the smoke from the cigarette in Gustave Caillebotte’s (sitting backwards in his chair) hand. If you’ve never seen the painting in person, you wouldn’t know that his cigarette has a bright tiny red dot of paint for the “cherry”, a fact I’ve never been able to see in any photographs or prints of the painting. In person, this minuscule bit of red draws your eye directly to it. It becomes the launch point from which you experience the rest of the painting, adding a 4th dimension of time into the viewing. I’ve been a huge fan of Renoir and the other impressionists, as well as art in general, ever since this experience.
If you ever find yourself in Washington DC, I HIGHLY recommend a trip to the Phillips Collection to see this for yourself. I hope your experience is as life-affirming as it was for me all those years ago.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a brash young handsome Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the Navy in 1943. He had used his father’s connections to rise quickly in the Navy and was offered command of a small “Patrol Torpedo” (or “PT”) boat with a crew of 11 sailors and another officer, Ensign Leonard J. Thom. The designation on that boat was “PT-109”
On August 2, 1943, while engaged in a large battle against Japanese forces in the area, PT-109 was run over and cut in half by a destroyer named Amagiri.
2 of Kennedy’s crew died immediately. The other 11, many severely wounded, clung to life aboard the remains of the boat. As the wreckage began to sink, the crew had to make the decision to swim about 3.5 miles (a little over 5 km) to this island, then known by non-islanders as “Plum Pudding Island”. One of the sailors, Machinist’s Mate Patrick McMahon, was so badly burned that he couldn’t swim himself. Kennedy, who was also injured, dragged McMahon attached to a life jacket strap clenched between the future president’s teeth — for 3 and a half miles. Two days later, the crew swam to nearby Olesana island and 4 days after that, with the help of a couple of native scouts and a message scratched out on a coconut, all were rescued.
JFK’s bravery and leadership on this mission were used extensively in his campaigns for the US House, the Senate, and later the presidency.
Those who found this rather tough site before the hint included: