When I did my last post, I hadn't realized that Morgan Meis had already written about Van Gogh's letters at The Smart Set:
A letter makes the world small again, shows a person enmeshed in the day-to-day affairs that everyone understands. Thus, by way of their potentially shocking intimacy or through their potentially overwhelming banality, letters tend to lack the specific elements that are to be found in the actual work of a great artist. Letters, inevitably, are the flotsam and jetsam through which the scholars pick. They contain little meat for you and me.
But this is not always the case. Thanks to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the letters of Van Gogh can now be perused in total. There is an exhibit running through January 2010 but, more important for those not able to make the trip, a complete online edition of the letters available at vangoghletters.org. The website is simply amazing. The letters themselves are interesting enough on the personal level. Vincent's last letter to his brother Theo contains the poignant thought, “I’d perhaps like to write to you about many things, but first the desire has passed to such a degree, then I sense the pointlessness of it.” All of the letters to Theo, actually, reveal a thoughtful, sensitive, and loving brother.
In this, Vincent van Gogh is one of us. We see him as a human being negotiating his way through a complicated world. But there is something more, some portion of his greatness contained in these letters. This makes them unusual.
Black Friday Bonus: Here are two pictures of Morgan and me just before our visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.