The Pieta’ after Delacroix – Van Gogh Museum canvas

The Pieta’ after Delacroix – Van Gogh Museum canvas

"I am not indifferent, and in the very suffering religious thoughts sometimes console me a great deal. Thus this time during my illness a misfortune happened to me – that lithograph of Delacroix, the Pietà, with other sheets had fallen into some oil and paint and got spoiled. I was sad about it – then in the meantime I occupied myself painting it, and you’ll see it one day, on a no. 5 or 6 canvas I’ve made a copy of it which I think has feeling" To Theo. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 10 September 1889
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Details:
Painting Date
19th of September 1889
Painting Type
Featured Homage
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Description:

The Pieta’ or “The Lamentation” and 13th Station of the Cross, is a scene of Mary cradling the body of Jesus and an oft depicted biblical theme first created in Germany in the 1300’s then becoming popular in Italy and France. Micheangelo’s sculpture is probably the most famous and sits in St. Peters Basilica to this day. Delacroix and many other artists depict similar poses and it is one of these treasured personal items of Vincent’s, a copy of the Delacroix, ruined in an episode the month before which he has sought to create in his own vision. His first, smaller attempt is on a size 6 canvas and housed in Rome. His second effort was on a size 20 canvas and hangs in the Van Gogh Museum.

Vincent softens his colors for the second and larger Pieta and the result is a more harmonious and gentle depiction.  Still using mainly blues and yellows, the mood is conveyed perhaps more by his color selection than by brushstroke variations.  He is painting some of his favorite pieces from his favorite artists in his own depictions in the Autumn of 1889 in the asylum of Saint Paul of Mausole in Saint Remy de Provence.  He is recovering from a 45 day long episode which has incapacitated him and is working inside the hospital as he feels uncomfortable going outside.  In Paris, Theo has selected two of Vincent’s pieces to be shown at the 6th Societe of Independentes, a major show with many of the best known post impressionists having works shown alongside Vincent’s.

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“My dear Theo…

…Gachet also told me that if I wanted to give him great pleasure he would like me to redo for him the copy of Delacroix’s Pietà, which he gazed at for a long time. Later he’ll probably give me a hand with the models, I feel that he’ll understand us completely, and that he’ll work with you and me without reservation, with all his intelligence, for the love of art for art’s sake. And he’ll perhaps have me do some portraits.”

To Theo van Gogh. Auvers-sur-Oise, Tuesday, 3 June 1890

 

“My dear Theo…

“When I see that crises here tend to take an absurd religious turn, I would almost dare believe that this even necessitates a return to the north. Don’t speak too much about this to the doctor when you see him – but I don’t know if this comes from living for so many months both at the hospital in Arles and here in these old cloisters. Anyway I ought not to live in surroundings like that, the street would be better then. I am not indifferent, and in the very suffering religious thoughts sometimes console me a great deal. Thus this time during my illness a misfortune happened to me – that lithograph of Delacroix, the Pietà, with other sheets had fallen into some oil and paint and got spoiled.
I was sad about it – then in the meantime I occupied myself painting it, and you’ll see it one day, on a no. 5 or 6 canvas I’ve made a copy of it which I think has feeling – besides, having not long ago seen the Daniel and the Odalisques and the Portrait of Bruyas and the Mulatto woman at Montpellier, I’m still under the impression that it had on me. This is what edifies me, as does reading a fine book like one by Beecher Stowe or Dickens. But what disturbs me is constantly seeing those good women who believe in the Virgin of Lourdes and make up things like that, and telling oneself that one is a prisoner in an administration like that, which very willingly cultivates these unhealthy religious aberrations when it ought to be a matter of curing them. So I say, it would be even better to go, if not into penal servitude then at least into the regiment.
I reproach myself for my cowardice, I ought to have defended my studio better, even if I had to fight with those gendarmes and neighbours. Others in my position would have used a revolver, and indeed, had one killed onlookers like that as an artist one would have been acquitted. I would have done better in that case then, and now I was cowardly and drunk.
Ill too, but I wasn’t brave. Then in the face of the Suffering of these crises I feel very fearful too, and so I don’t know if my zeal is something other than what I say, it’s like the man who wants to commit suicide, and finding the water too cold he struggles to catch hold of the bank again.”

“Good – since I’m above all ill at present, I’m trying to do something to console myself, for my own pleasure.
I place the black-and-white by Delacroix or Millet or after them in front of me as a subject. And then I improvise colour on it but, being me, not completely of course, but seeking memories of their paintings – but the memory, the vague consonance of colours that are in the same sentiment, if not right – that’s my own interpretation.”

To Theo van Gogh. Saint Remy de Provence,  10-20 September 1889

 

“My dear sister,
As I write to Mother I’ll send her a painting in let’s say around a month, and there’ll be one for you too.
I’ve painted a few for myself, too, these past few weeks – I don’t much like seeing my own paintings in my bedroom, so I’ve copied one by Delacroix5 and a few by Millet.
The Delacroix is a Pietà, i.e. a dead Christ with the Mater Dolorosa. The exhausted corpse lies bent forward on its left side at the entrance to a cave, its hands outstretched, and the woman stands behind. It’s an evening after the storm, and this desolate, blue-clad figure stands out – its flowing clothes blown about by the wind – against a sky in which violet clouds fringed with gold are floating. In a great gesture of despair she too is stretching out her empty arms, and one can see her hands, a working woman’s good, solid hands. With its flowing clothes this figure is almost as wide in extent as it’s tall. And as the dead man’s face is in shadow, the woman’s pale head stands out brightly against a cloud – an opposition which makes these two heads appear to be a dark flower with a pale flower, arranged expressly to bring them out better. I didn’t know what had become of this painting, but while I was in the very process of working on it I came across an article by Pierre Loti, the author of Mon frère Yves and Pêcheur d’Islande and Madame Chrysanthème.

To Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday, 19 September 1889

 

http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/s0168V1962

 

Painting, Oil on Canvas – 73 x 60.5 cm Size 20 Figure
Saint-Rémy: September 19, 1889
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 630, JH: 1775

Where Vincent Was:
Saint Remy

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