This essay is dedicated to my friend Traudy, who helped me to learn to love Van Gogh. ;-)

A Site So Good It's Hard to Believe

        Who would have imagined that a site such as this could ever exist? Not I, I assure you! And yet, here it is, beautiful, free, and open 24/7. I speak of the Van Gogh Gallery, wherein are gathered all the paintings made by Vincent Van Gogh during his brief and tortured life. (Really, all of them.) (And no, I couldn't believe it either.)

       The best way to find one's way around Van Gogh's 873 paintings is through the thumbnails. As you browse, you will notice a number of the Van Gogh classics such as this wheat field, the artist's own bedroom and the now-famous portrait of his postman, Joseph Roulin. Equally rewarding, however, are lesser-known masterpieces such as this gentle, lovely rendering of the courtyard of the hospital in Arles. And they go on and on -- here is a village street in Arles and here a dramatic depiction of a man sowing seed. In fact, you could do worse than just browse the alphabetical listings themselves. Consulting the "v-page" alone will take you to 34 paintings of vases full of flowers, not only the famous sunflowers but these hollyhocks and zinnias as well.

       Actually, this site is so terrific that the oil paintings constitute only a portion of its contents. All of Van Gogh's other works are here as well. First, there are his 152 watercolors. (See, for example, this woman reeling yarn and the ramparts of Paris, or Vincent's yellow house in Arles and this uniformed Zouave.) Next, there is the treasure trove of Van Gogh's 1,049 drawings. Here again is the familiar mix of subjects, in both expected and unexpected styles, e.g., a pawnshop, a garden with flowers, and this young girl with a shawl.

       Even then, the contents of this marvelous site have not been exhausted. It also contains extensive biographical material, such as a brief biographical sketch; a chronology, and a set of photographs. More impressively still, it holds the entire correspondence between Van Gogh and his brother Theo (864 letters, with a bonus of 131 sketches within the letters). Finally, not least among the charms of this site is this poignant pastel drawing by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec of Van Gogh sitting alone at a table.

February 22, 2001