One last indulgent post on European travels long ago. From Switzerland we travel to Spain and then on to France. We toured the Prado and the Louvre, but then Bobbi flew home to teach junior high art, and I traveled on alone. I headed north seeking to put distance between me and the unsettling forwardness of Mediterranean men. First to Copenhagen, and then a ferry ride to Sweden so I could make the claim that I had stepped foot in my maternal ancestral lands.
I took a side trip to the tip of Denmark, staying in a nearly empty hostel because the days were already a crisp reminder that summer was over. I walked the empty beach to its most northern tip, wanting to find the place where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea came together. My college education up to that point had been about how to make art, but my senior year would be the beginning of learning what art I was meant to make. There, where two seas came together, seemed a good place to begin sketching ideas and laying plans for my last year of college. At the time I thought it so odd that a girl from the Colorado Rockies felt so at peace there walking by the sea. Little did I know that as an adult I would find a similarly isolated place on the edge of a continent to root.
On the train back to civilization (Amsterdam) I teamed up with four other Americans, two studying for the priesthood at the Vatican and two telephone operators exploring the world. We all had ideas on what we wanted to see and do, and one by one we checked off the list. We strolled through Amsterdam’s red light district, boated its canals, toured the Heineken factory, walked on a dike, bought cheese from a farm and took our picture in front of the World Court in The Hague. Spending time in a country below sea level, with its 180 degree expanse of sky and long daylight hours was such a contrast from the mountains of my youth. I finally understood how place influences art.
Then we went to the newly opened Van Gogh Museum. The slides of my art history lectures and the pictures in books did not prepare me. I had grown accustomed over the summer to seeing rooms dedicated to the work of one artist, but never a whole museum. Van Gogh’s work was hung chronologically, with the earliest work on the lowest floor. It was incredible to see its progression from the sepias of his early drawings to the vibrant hues and madness of his later years. It is so rare to be able to see that much work by one person spanning an entire artistic career. Though in reality Van Gogh's career only lasted ten short years, from 1880 to 1890. I think he was able to make that incredible transition because he had previously worked for his uncle, an art dealer, and studied to be a minister. He had thought deeply about art and life before he began and then his sheer prolific production of work propelled it forward at warp speed.
When I flew home a couple of days later, I had a small reproduction of the first picture in this post, The Fishing Boats on the Beach of Saintes-Maries tucked safely between my pocket guide to the Prado and a small book on Michelangelo. I probably would have chosen one of Van Gogh's self portraits, but I also wanted to hold on to my memory of a beach where two seas came together as one.
There are many books out on Van Gogh. But my new favorite is My Brother Vincent van Gogh, by Ceciel de Bie. It is a children’s book, but it captures his life and work in such a refreshing way. A very comprehensive website on his work can be found at https://www.vggallery.com/.