The absolute best thing about the movie, and the only good thing, are the stills of Defoe as Van Gogh.

At Eternity’s Gate is to the painter, Vincent Van Gogh, what the paintings in the movie are to his own: an atrocity.

Vincent doing Manga tentacle porn way before its time. Bit too cartoonist, no?

I’ve been excited to see this movie for a long time, mostly because it stars Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh. The only actor that might have been more fun to cast in the role is Christopher Walken. True, even Dafoe is too old to play Van Gogh, as Willem was over 60 in the film, and Vincent died at the tragic age of 37. Walken is 75, so he would have had to play the role a few decades ago. When I say fun to cast, that’s all I mean. I don’t mean the best or more appropriate, which would have been an unknown actor.

I was very wary going in, because, the director is Julien Schnabel, and his movie about Basquiat was a disaster [you can read my review here: Schnabel’s Basquiat a Basket Case]. The problem with virtually every movie I’ve seen about an artist, is that the artist is portrayed as completely socially inept, emotionally immature, and with no sense of humor at all.  Schnabel likes to throw in pathetic as well. The worse failing of his Basquiat film was including himself in it as the infinitely more mature, talented, brilliant, grounded, and successful artist extraordinaire.

Schnabel’s got a towering ego on him, boy howdy! I knew the movie was going to be bombast, and probably cringe-worthy, but I gave Schnabel the benefit of the doubt, doubting instead my own preconceived ideas about him and early conclusions. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Schnabel has improved with time. Nope.

Schnabel portrays Vincent as a pathetic lunatic. Vincent sees angels and is possessed by an evil hobgoblin that temporarily stationed itself in his ear, and that’s why he cut it off. It’s so agonizingly clichéd I think I would have rolled my eyes if I saw this when I was still in my teens.

While watching this, I had to ask myself WHY?! WHY did Schnabel do this?! It could have been Defoe’s best role ever, and as a fellow artist who presumably has a good eye and understands Van Gogh, Schnabel would certainly humanize Van Gogh and try to get at the real complexity of his art, avoiding milking the crap out of the sensationalist content. Instead, he exaggerated even that.

Schnabel shows Vincent being unstrapped from a straight jacket immediately before being released from the St. Paul’s Asylum in Saint-Rémy. A straitjacket?! I’ve done a lot of research on Van Gogh over the decades, as he’s been in my top three favorite artists since I was around 18. I’ve read his letters, a psychological biography, and a few art books, as well as seen documentaries and read various articles. I don’t remember anything about him being in a straitjacket. My memory isn’t perfect, or anywhere close to it, so, I went ahead and looked this up.

According to this article in Artnet:

The institutionalization was voluntary, and unlike many asylums of the time, Saint-Paul eschewed the use of straight jackets, refusing to chain up its patients or employ other cruel practices.

I guess this never happened:

Why exaggerate? And why insult our intelligence? Vincent made one of his most famous paintings within days of being admitted to St. Pauls, the Irises:

A modestly perspicacious person might wonder how he painted it while in a straitjacket.

In order to ramp up the insane asylum gloom, Schnabel included a bizarre scene with a madman besides Vincent, in some sort of tub with restraints for forcible washing. I think the visual might be more persuasive here:

This guy makes Anthony Hopkins look tame in Silence of the Lambs. Nothing to do with reality, just completely extraneous and unnecessary shock schlock.

Another bizarre exaggeration, which hurt my eyes, is the color Schnabel chose for Vincent’s yellow house. Van Gogh had described it, and painted it, as a buttery yellow, but Schnabel uses a nauseating acid yellow.

Even the inside of Vincent’s bedroom is bile yellow.

In one of his most famous paintings it was blue:

Maybe that’s not the bedroom in the screenshot I took, and maybe Vincent changed the color of the walls in his painting. OK, but according to Vincent himself, the inside was whitewashed, and not thus uniformly bile yellow:

“My house here is painted the yellow colour of fresh butter outside with raw green shutters; it stands in the full sunlight on a square which has a green garden with plane trees, oleanders and acacias. And it is completely whitewashed inside, and the floor is made of red bricks. And over it the intensely blue sky. There I can live and breathe, think and paint.”

When Vincent places one of his sunflower paintings on the yellow wall in the movie, it clashes horribly.  I gather this is all part of making the madman extra cuckoo. I can’t say there’s a moment in the film where Vincent is sane.

Even when he’s out in the fields painting he has to take a break to throw himself on the ground, crumble dirt in his face, and taste it, all, I gather, in order to get in touch with the land:

All of this dehumanizes Vincent, who was much more often sane and hard-working. His letters tell far more the truth. Here’s one from 1883:

I carry on as one unknowing but who knows this one thing — ‘I must finish a particular work within a few years’ — I needn’t rush myself, for that does no good — but I must carry on working in calm and serenity, as regularly and concentratedly as possible, as succinctly as possible. I’m concerned with the world only in that I have a certain obligation and duty, as it were — because I’ve walked the earth for 30 years — to leave a certain souvenir in the form of drawings or paintings in gratitude. Not done to please a certain taste in art, but to express a sincere human feeling.

Here’s a man who is struggling, but not frothing at the mouth.

Here’s some of his last letter to his parents:

I myself am quite absorbed in that immense plain with wheat fields up as far as the hills, boundless as the ocean, delicate yellow, delicate soft green, the delicate purple of a tilted and weeded piece of ground, with the regular speckle of the green of flowering potato plants, everything under a sky of delicate tones of blue, white, pink, and violet. I am in a mood of almost too much calm, just the mood needed for painting this.

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, 1890.

Calm?! What?! Van Gogh working calmly, in a mood of almost too much calm? I thought he slashed at the canvas in a state of hysteria. The maniac in the movie probably couldn’t finish a single coherent canvas. The real Vincent, it may disappoint many, was probably far more normal, intelligent, and composed than the legend. His letters suggest a completely different person, and it’s his own voice.

This is his last note to his brother:

I try to be fairly good humored in general, but my life is too threatened at its very root and my step is unsteady too . . . [There] are vast stretches of corn under troubled skies, and I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness . . . For myself, I can only say at the moment that I think we all need rest . . . And the prospect grows darker. I see no happy future at all.

We know at this point he was at the end of his rope, if not in terms of his ability to cope, in terms of the length of his life (as there is speculation he didn’t shoot himself, but was shot by someone else and covered up for it). Still, at the very end, he was trying to be good humored?! He’s never good humored, or anywhere near it, in the biopic.

Let’s get into the bad painting

Probably the worse thing you could do in a bio of an artist is make his art look like shit. My hopes the movie would deliver were crushed in the first minutes, as Vincent produced this utter atrocity.

WHAT’S THAT! Let’s get closer:

Huh?! Did Vincent paint one section at a time? And did he use pure white like that?

Remember the Manga tree root painting. Here, we see Vincent just picking a spot and painting away, but in that one it looks much more like he laid out the composition in a flat cartoon style before building up the impasto:

I guess you’re not supposed to notice little contradictions like that.

Let’s see the finished shoes:

Uuuuugh!. No! THAT is closer to a tabletop at McDonald’s after a food fight. Does Schnabel NOT know that painting looks like shit?! This is what the real painting looks like:

Hey, let’s zoom in.

Not only are the shoestrings not just broad white slathered strokes, there’s no straight white in it, and there’s not much discernible white mixed in the yellow pigment.

In a typical, mature Van Gogh painting, the strokes are controlled, almost interlaced, and not just single colors piled in different sections of the painting.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the movie is when a priest at the [voluntary] mental asylum talks to Vincent in order to determine whether or not he will allow him to be released. You can see a bit of that conversation scattered in this trailer:

[Note that if you see the trailer and assume the movie is going to flesh things out, you’ll be disappointed. It never goes deeper than those snippets, and there’s not much dialogue.]

The priest gets Vincent declaring he’s a born painter (because he can’t do anything else, and, believe him, he’s tried), and it’s a God-given gift. Hard to believe a contemporary artist and filmmaker would put forth such a belief in 2019, but, part of the message of the film is that Schnabel is God’s gift to humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time.

The priest has set up Vincent, and then reaches over and produces one of Vincent’s canvases.

And the priest is right. The painting that appears on screen at this climatic moment is hideous. Behold:

The only thing that saves it at all is the annoying and incomprehensible device Schnabel uses throughout the movie of blurring the bottom third of the screen, as if with Vaseline. I guess those are rabbits? Yuck!

While watching this I imagined that this is what people see, who don’t understand Van Gogh, when they look at one of his canvases. They see a clumsy mess dashed off in a few minutes.

Here’s what the real painting looks like:

Landscape with Rabbits, Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, December 1889.

If you’re going to blur the fuck out of it, why not just use a print that does the original some sort of justice? Hell, you could digitally insert it after the fact. Let’s look at a couple details, because it’s the expert precision with which Van Gogh applies his strokes, and his color, in his own style, that separates his paintings from even the best of knock-offs (let alone the abysmal ones).


Whatever excuses we might make for Schnabel, he’s portrayed Van Gogh as claiming to be a born painter with a gift from God, who then offers us up a cartoonist fingerpainting executed with condiments.

You might be thinking, well, of course fakes aren’t going to be as good as the originals. True. But people have been faking Van Gogh’s for over a century, including this guy in China who does a much, much better job. The movie “Loving Vincent”, which I recommend, is made up entirely of oil paintings done in the manner of Van Gogh. Here’s a trailer:

Each cell is a painting. And, sure, they aren’t astoundingly good, and some are a bit botched or off the mark, but Schnabel only needed to produce a handful of paintings for the whole movie. Even I have done a better fake Van Gogh:

Mine’s digital, and convincing digital impasto is really difficult. It’s not the same thing as Vincent’s strokes, either. But you know what it isn’t? Ugly!

Imagine making a movie about a composer, or say, the new Freddie Mercury film, Bohemian Rhapsody (haven’t seen it), and the music is atrocious. Someone gets Freddie saying his voice is a gift from God, then he goes on stage and sounds like something out of a worst auditions compilation for American Idol.

So, yes, nobody can paint Vincent as well as Vincent, but do we have to have examples that are ghastly?

And why did Schnabel choose those paintings. I’d never seen the rabbit painting before, and it’s not one of his strongest. If you are going to make up straitjackets, why not have the priest look at one of Vincent’s best paintings, like the Irises, or, I dunno … … … Starry Night, painted from his asylum room window at night:

And if that would be too clichéd for a massively clichéd movie, why not pick any of the many paintings of the asylum grounds itself, or, … … …

OK, folks, I was just looking up the Wikipedia entry on Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy (Van Gogh series) and just looking at the thumbnails is more enriching than the whole damned movie, and with none of the pitfalls. Look at this beauty of a painting:

Hot damn, I’ve never seen this painting before. It’s gorgeous. The greens! Amazing! Why not use this painting? The whole point of the protracted scene with Hannibal Lecter was for him to tell a story about some little girl who spent the first twelve years of her life in darkness, never seeing sunlight. Then he asks Vincent, “What do you paint?”.


Now that we’ve established sunlight is his beaming subject, lets see the radiant light:

I’m looking at an overcooked pizza in the oven. Schnabel’s done a lot of films, so there’s no excuse for making a painting of sunlight as bright as a Lascaux cave painting illumined by gas lantern.

Oh, no, did Schnabel paint those himself?


An article from The Wrap explains it:

But in order to play the part, Dafoe had to learn that new skill. “When you see someone painting in the movie, it’s me,”… Director Schnabel doubled as Dafoe’s painting instructor, and the actor said he practiced four or five times before filming the opening scene of Van Gogh painting a pair of battered old shoes in one continuous take.

Yuuup. That’s about what it looks like: an amateur making a half dozen stabs at a great painting, and hoping for beginners luck. That works with bowling, not art. Let’s get, uuuuum, Matthew McConaughey to play Paganini. Just give him the violin and let him have a gander at the score for one of his solo violin caprices. Do some knee bends, then go ahead and do 5 or 6 tries to nail it, film it, and nobody will know it’s not possibly the greatest violin virtuoso of all time. Shiiiiiiiiit.

The rest of the set was adorned with other paintings, the work of a group of artists who’d made copies of Van Gogh’s most famous works. “It was a lot of fun for Julian,” Dafoe said. “He would check them out and then he’d mess with them. Usually, they were very good copies but then he’d go and give them life.”

There it is. Schnabel worked on ’em. That’s why they look like shit and still got in the picture.

If the laughably bad paintings were the only problem with the movie I’d have to say it’s an utter failure. You just can’t fail in THAT way. But there’s more, much more. Here’s Vincent crying when Gauguin decided to leave Arles:

Boo-hoo. Van Gogh is infantalized. And it’s not the only time. There’s the unwatchable sequence where Vincent asks his brother to climb in bed with him at the mental hospital in order to console him.

Sheer bathos. It’s an insult to Van Gogh and an assault on art history. I wish I could flush all of this from my mind except for the images of Defoe as Vincent out in the fields with the wide-brimmed hat. Those are fantastic.

I ask myself, where is Schnabel in this film. In Basquiat he was the obviously superior artist whose 2 or 3 story canvases dwarfed not only Basquiat’s, but Basquiat himself.

Basquiat dwarfed by the monumental canvases of the writer/director himself. Opera played during this scene! This is Schnabel’s attempt to prove that he is the GOD of contemporary art, though sometimes bigger is just a bigger mistake.

I suspect that Schnabel is Gauguin, the more mature, more successful artist who Vincent admires. When Vincent is crying about Gauguin leaving, he recounts the other artist’s words:

Schnabel’s reputation is established. Outside of this movie he has otherwise tried to dwarf Van Gogh with his own art:

That’s Schnabel with one of Vincent’s absolute best self-portraits, and then a giant one of his own paintings over plates that’s, uuuuuh, even bigger and better?!

The pic says it all, but if you want context, see my article: Julian Schnabel’s Clueless Self-Indictment.

This movie is a hopefully unintentional hit piece that does far more damage than good to Van Gogh’s reputation, or an understanding of his paintings. The film makes me sick, and by the end I was so bored I wanted to fast forward through it. Rather than countering ignorance about the artist, artists, and art, it reinforces the worse stereotypes and misunderstandings. FAIL!

How about an intelligent and respectful movie for art-loving adults?

If you don’t agree with me, don’t worry, my opinion is apparently an extreme minority. Here are some snippets of glowing reviews:

Julian Schnabel has made a heartfelt if straightforwardly reverent film about the last years in the life of Vincent van Gogh – acted by Willem Dafoe with all the integrity and unselfconscious ease that you would expect from this great actor. ~ Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian.

That dude could paint! There are biopics of artists that don’t ask more of an audience than that simple reaction. Not so with Julian Schnabel’s extraordinary At Eternity’s Gate, which features a monumental, career-best performance from Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. ~ Lily Gavin for Rolling Stone.

Willem Dafoe’s magnificent performance captures every bit of the artist’s complexity in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate. With stunning visuals and a judicious balance of poetry and drama, Schnabel draws us into both Van Gogh’s genius and his tortured life. ~ Caryn James for BBC – Culture.

“At Eternity’s Gate,” Julian Schnabel’s fluky and transporting drama about van Gogh’s tumultuous, fervid, and artistically possessed last days, is a movie that channels the light, the evanescent glow of van Gogh’s painting and being, like lightning in a bottle. ~ Owen Gleiberman for Variety.

I didn’t read a single review before writing mine. I figured I had my own take on it. I was pretty sure other people panned it, and I didn’t want to consciously or unconsciously borrow their lines. They fucking loved it. [And this just lets you know that when I do art criticism, it’s a bit different. I don’t have to answer to anyone, and I don’t care if I offend anyone. I can slap in a bunch of pics, and am otherwise not limited by the restraints various publications put on their authors.]

I stand by my review. It was a horribly botched take on what should have been an extraordinary opportunity. It could have been so awesome.

~ Ends

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21 replies on “At Eternity’s Gate: An Abominable Portrait of Van Gogh

  1. Eric,
    I was going to see this, but now I think I’ll skip it. Did you ever see Vincent and Theo? I think I saw it about 30 years ago. Vincent is played by Tim Roth and I recall I thought he did a good job. I might try to find it and watch it again since it’s been so long, but I remember thinking it was good.



    1. I bet I saw that, but also a really long time ago, probably 30 years, too.

      Have you seen “Loving Vincent”? I really liked that one. I thought I reviewed it here, but can’t find it, so I guess I never got around to it

      Just watched a trailer, or part of it, for Vincent and Theo, and none of it looks familiar. I didn’t finish the trailer because I like me some suspense. .

      You can still watch “At Eternity’s Gate”. My opinion seems to be a real rare take on it.

      Also, I linked to an interesting documentary about a Chinese guy who just makes Van Gogh knock-offs, along with his wife and a small crew. It’s rather good.



  2. Eric,
    I haven’t seen Loving Vincent, I will definitely check it out. I probably won’t bother with Eternity’s Gate. I trust you on this, especially since I saw the Basquiat movie and totally agree with you on that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Matt:

      Just finished “Vincent & Theo”.

      It’s more substantive, with far more dialogue, but, ultimately is another fiction that has little to do with the actual Vincent Van Gogh. There are some super cringe-worthy scenes, and horribly botched paintings, though nothing is as bad as the shoes in the opening scenes of “At Eternity’s Gate”. It’s a curious movie, though, and I may have learned a thing or two, though I’m not sure what.

      The two movies together cancel each other out, as there’s virtually zero overlap in the portrayal of Vincent, in which case it highlights that we have no idea who the man really was. We reinvent him according to our limited understanding of him.

      But there is a way to unravel of mystery of Van Gogh, and that’s to look at his paintings. His writing offers some context and elucidation, but it’s really his canvases that express who he was, and is through them.

      The curious thing about VVG is that over the decades I’ve been expose to his art, it doesn’t get old. It gets better, and fresher.

      I think people try to understand him through his story, which is all second hand knowledge at best, and through psychology, but we’d do better to look at his paintings. Bacon said of his own art that they are all self-portraits because it’s the way he chose to portray himself to the world.

      Anyway, none of the films about Vincent I’ve seen make him at all likable. He’s not in “Loving Vincent” that I recall. It all takes place after his death. It’s just in the style of his paintings, which while quite amateurish works overall.

      I suppose for me the reason the films about VVG are so disappointing is that I understand his paintings well enough to see with my own eyes a very broad scope, whereas the movies always make him a narrow caricature. Imagine, if you’ve read Shakespeare, a movie in which he comes off as not all that bright or articulate. It just doesn’t follow.

      I kinda’ liked the character of Gauguin in Vincent & Theo. He was appealing. But, uh, I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you are in the mood for exploring how film portrays artists. It is an interesting topic.

      I also got a hold of a documentary about the Van Gogh brothers that seems interesting, and which I haven’t seen.

      Meanwhile, I have a new B&W drawing I’m almost done with. I think you’ll like it.

      Thanks for staying in touch over the years and keeping the conversation going. These days mostly I see your work on IG, which is quite a nice development from when you didn’t share.




  3. Eric,
    I remember when I saw Vincent and Theo I was a teenage kid who didn’t know much about art, but knew I like Van Gogh’s paintings. I knew very little about him as a person. I remember thinking I learned a lot about him (some probably exaggerated). I didn’t even know he had a brother at that time, or that he new Gauguin. So for me at that time I did learn some things from the movie. Movies about him are naturally going to romanticize the myth of him being a crazy, starving artist because that’s what they think will get people to watch it. I agree that the best way to really understand him is to look at his paintings, but it’s still difficult. If I look back at about 1000 of my own paintings I don’t know that I would get a great idea of who I really am. Maybe that’s because I’m not doing a very good job of expressing myself, or maybe I’m just a little to scared to paint the true deeper feelings. I do a lot of paintings of my wife, or I do totally non representational paintings. I use mostly bright colors. I do have a bunch of darker paintings that I don’t put on IG that I don’t think people would like. I have a bunch of me inside of bourbon bottles trying to get out, or outside trying to get back in. The work does seem kind of random with no real goal. That’s not the case at all. I’ve tried so hard to keep my work from getting stuck in a signature style that it comes off that way. Mostly I just get in the studio and paint what’s on my mind at the moment, and I hope in the end I will have enough time for the story to come into focus.

    Have you been to the Clifford Still museum in Denver? It has most of his works so you can see his evolution. I can see how one idea led to another, but I still don’t get any feel for who he was as a person. I guess that’s quite often the case with non representational art. The art alone doesn’t tell you much about the person. A lot of people can do drip paintings like Pollock, but his seem better, and that’s probably because of the stories about him. Do you know many great famous artists whose life story is super boring? Just got up every day and painted, and that’s all?

    Obviously Van Gogh had some mental issues, possibly schizophrenia, But is it possible with Van Gogh the myth is a lot crazier that he actually was. I see a man mostly alone, painting olive trees, or still life’s. Probably pretty happy out there in a field painting by himself, but frustrated that he was painting some of the most amazing paintings and no one seemed to like them. That’s the catch for an artist who is painting differently than what’s accepted at the time. Your work can be great and no one cares.

    I’m always looking forward to see what your working on. Your work has helped me look deeper into what I’m trying to do, and try harder to do a better job with the accuracy of the lines and overall design of the works. I see you putting so much effort into the small details and it pays off for you, so it makes me try harder at my own art.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Matt:

      I read “Lust for Life” when I was 18, and maybe THAT helped me get into Van Gogh. Sure, it’s romanticized and all, but at least it’s a book. There may be long-lasting ideas I got out of there as well.

      I can see how you learned some things from Vincent & Theo. I’m sure 30 years ago your standards weren’t as high, or you weren’t able to discern what was amiss as easily. That’s certainly true for me.

      Do we now a person more through their personality, their story, or their art? It probably breaks down a bit to what we think it means to know somebody. It’s quite difficult to know another person, though easy to recognize them.

      I’m not really familiar with Clifford Still. I’ve seen some of his paintings in person, too, but, he’s always struck be as a B-rated Abstract Expressionist. And you’re probably right that it’s difficult to know an artist through non-representational work. But you can know their vision, to a degree.

      I don’t think you can know anything about a lot of artists from their work, because they don’t put themselves in it. How about Carl Andre and his tiles on the floor. Nothing.

      But with Van Gogh, or Dali, or say, Bosch, or El Greco, we may know them through their work in a way we wouldn’t if we were their neighbors and didn’t see their work.

      Yeah, I try to hone my craft a bit. Funny you should mention that. Right now I’m doing 50% making imagery, and 50% practice. I guess I’ll talk a little about that when I share my new piece. I don’t know how much it’s helping, yet.



  4. Hi,

    Wanted to know your take on the funeral scene at the film’s end. Cannot find any critics or scholars thoughts on this final scene which unless I misunderstood, seems to show Vincent’s paintings being sold off at his funeral. From everything I’ve read, his collection was kept intact by Theo’s wife who passed it onto her son who then gave the collection to a museum in Amsterdam.

    Any thoughts on why this fallacy would have been included in the film and why no one has commented on it but only whether or not Vincent had shot himself? This seems like a really big oversight.

    Thanks for any insight.`

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jenny:

      Interesting question. I hadn’t really thought about it, because by then I found the whole thing so unrealistic I was just waiting for it to end. I’d lost interest by then.

      However, a couple internet searches reveal Vincent’s paintings, easel, and stool, etc., were on display at his funeral. Nothing was for sale, however.

      I don’t have the film any more, so can’t check the ending again to see if Theo was supposed to be selling the canvases or not. If he was, than it was just an additional ridiculous embellishment in a movie that is an affront to reality.


  5. While paintings were not sold at his funeral (how gauche), Theo did gift some to their friends, especially art critic Albert Aurier to whom he gave eleven more (Vincent had already gifted one for the glowing article Les Isoles) in exchange for a biography Aurier agreed to write. Unfortunately, Aurier died 15 months after Vincent and never completed the bio. Most of his dozen paintings were purchased by Helene Kroller Mueller where they reside today at her museum in Otterlo. One of them was Cafe Terrace at Night. Aurier was a Symbolist and I believe knew Vincent’s intent about that canvas: it’s a uniquely innovated Last Supper. You can Google my research. Don’t read what others have summarized about my research. They’re hacks. Check out the nuts and bolts.

    Oh, and thanks for the entertaining film review.

    Jared Baxter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the facts about gifting Vincent’s paintings after he died. When it comes to artists and the interpretations of their work, I would first defer to what they themselves say, and in Vincent’s case, he was very articulate and specific about the content of his paintings and what he hoped to convey.

      When I was 18 I read a psychological biography of Van Gogh, and the author had many authoritative interpretations of Vincent’s paintings. The one of Gauguin’s chair, with a lit candle on it just had to be homoerotic, and the candle a penis. I wasn’t buying it, though it’s kind of hard to ignore once it’s pointed out.

      Vincent has written about the Terrace, and as I recall his focus was on painting the night in blues and violets, and was interested in the quality of the night itself. OK, I just looked it up. Vincent additionally wrote that “the beginning of Bel-ami [by Maupassant] is precisely the description of a starry night in Paris, with the lighted cafés of the boulevard, and it’s something like the same subject that I’ve painted just now.”

      I’m going to go with that being the most likely scenario, that we wanted to paint a scene similar to the one described by Maupassant, and that he wanted to capture the night sky. That said, we know Vincent had been a missionary, and his father was a pastor. We know he’s done some specifically religious paintings with no need for interpretation (ex., his Pieta after Delacroix). So, I wouldn’t discount underlying themes, or a religious foundation or orientation underpinning his art. He was certainly religious about painting.

      Did he deliberately put a Christ figure and disciples in the night cafe? Or is it coincidence? What is the significance if it was deliberate? How would you feel if instead someone said it was not Chris, but Buddha and some of his disciples? Would that matter? Is the message found in the painting itself, or in the interpretation thereof?

      Was he being literal or drawing a parallel? I quite doubt, towards the end of his life, Vincent was invested in promulgating a certain extant set of beliefs, and I think I’ve read something about him rejecting them. I rather think he was blazing his own path, like the sower in the wheat-field, and his art had become his religious calling.

      But you do conjure a certain image of Vincent as artist as missionary, which might explain some of his zeal. I fear though, that if his objective really was to capture a mysterious night sky in blues and violets, and we instead focus on a certain interpretation because of it’s implications, or that it substantiates a certain view, than we may in fact miss the point of the painting.

      Does a sunflower need to have a meaning other than what it is? Or does his rendering of what it is get right to the core without needing to go through the filter of interpretations wrought in linguistics?

      But, yes, that standing figure in white does look a bit Christ-like.


      1. Just saw your reply, two years late… There are some missing van Gogh letters, some are more important than others. We know of one Vincent sent to Bernard after painting Cafe Terrace at Night. He sermonized and later apologized for his passion, however, it stoked a fire within Gauguin to paint Vision After the Sermon.

        While I agree the artist’s opinions about his art are the best, some of those are lost, in this case, likely because Bernard wanted to take credit for the Symbolist movement or was generally embarrassed by the content of his letters to Vincent because none of them exist today.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What do you think about Vincent physically assaulting that woman before he went to the asylum? He forced her into position on the ground and it goes badly… Then black screen. I can’t find any info about him assualting a woman. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Probably just more of Schnabel trying to make himself the historically superior artist, and looking really bad in the process. He’s got an ego on him, does Julian.


  7. I have seen the movies you cite about Van Goth. Except the one with Théo, I think. I might have seen it years ago. And some documentaries. About your critic of AEG, you definitely make good points. The paintings in particular are too ugly in the film. But maybe the goal was to show us how the Van Goth paintings looked like for people at the time. The director should probably give an explanation as to why he did that. He did explain the fuzzy bottom half as a view for someone with double focal lenses. The director has to explain why his painting did not catch better during his life.
    I find the film AEG pretty good at making sense of the ear cutting and of the mortal gunshot that took his life. Previous explanations were more baffling.
    In general, AEG may be wrong about the mental disorder of Van Goth but it does delve into it a lot. A more accurate depiction maybe is left to do, But I give the director some credit to explore it.
    I like your critic of the film. It helps to think that Van Goth’s life is still mysterious but could be deduced even better. The future is open to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Serge. Well, perhaps I was too hard on the film, but I had such high expectations. It still seems odd that an artist himself would make such a cliched depiction of Van Gogh, as completely unhinged, when we know he was very sharp, articulate, and when he wasn’t having one of his episodes a much different character. For me, I like “Loving Vincent” the best so far. I can’t remember exactly how it dealt with the ear cutting, but it may have went with the new theory that Gauguin did it, and Vincent covered up for him. Perhaps one day we’ll know the truth. For now, only Vincent’s own paintings and letters are really a fair depiction of him.


      1. Hi Eric, no it was really Van Goth that cut his own ear in the film. But there was a different logic about giving it to the woman at the bordello. It was about sending it to Gauguin. You must admit that this alone makes the character, if not unhinged, rather baffling. He really had a serious mental disorder. He himself was baffled by his own thoughts and acts. It seems he was painting so much because it is the part of him he could understand and do without issue.
        The film also depicts the town he chose as not friendly to him. A teacher demeans his work while he does it with the whole class there bashing him. Not a good thing in a small town. A friend tells him the people of the town are uneducated and not open.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the reminder. It was a more sympathetic portrayal of the artist, though, in my mind. I don’t think anyone has done him real justice. I know he had his moments of insanity, but there were other long periods where he was stable, and working hard on his art.

        Thanks for the dialogue about one of my favorite artists of all time.


  8. are you seriously complaining that an actor who was 62-years-old at the time of filming can’t paint as well as van Gogh? good lord


    1. Why not use someone who could paint a passable fake Vincent instead? You’ve heard of stunt doubles. Have a painting double. That would have made for a more persuasive film. But the whole thing was a comedy of errors, cliches, and exaggerations that make Vincent into a pathetic joke.


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