The Ekphrasis Project blog shows paintings, scribbling and works in mixed media by Dutch artist Joost de Jonge.

my letter to Vincent

A letter to Vincent


Even though it is now midnight, I still wanted to write to you again. You are not here now, yet I long to see you, and sometimes it is as if we are not far from one another.

I have to tell you how heart-warming I found it that you suddenly turned up here. There you stood, in your paint-spattered clothes, in the foyer of the hotel on the Place de la Republique. You must know that I, just as you, think and dream of the new art, notwithstanding in a different way; more a music of colour. A music that perhaps might not wholly please you. In your last letter you talk of your nephew and namesake: I hope he is doing well, and I would like you to pass on my very best wishes to him, and also to Jo and your brother.

I now have a number of square-shaped works standing in a row on my easels in my studio. Well not really in a row, but grouped from front to back, with one in the middle and two a little further behind on each side of it. Although this does not indicate any hierarchy, it has the feeling of a musical movement in itself. A triangle in space, a triangle of squares; then I immediately think of the Holy Trinity and the apostles who have handed down the teaching to us… This is how I like to reflect on movement in space, both the actual space and that of my association, uniformity, repetition and a certain variation in depth: while everything remains the same, something still moves. I exist in space as its emissary: a traveller in light. The work absorbs me completely now, to the extent that my thoughts too are swallowed up by my painterly struggle. Despite my lengthy considerations, the fact is that, in my thoughts, what I seem to consider rational repeatedly leads into a reflection on the Sublime. As if I am calmly and comfortably walking through a maze, and without any notion of return I find myself standing in the centre of the maze once more. I feel exposed and alone there in the emptiness of what I can only see as a sad parting from everything that is gentle and familiar in me. And yet it is only here that I am myself, with no escape possible. I should put a day bed here so that I can still rest a little, and perhaps I will then form a new thought. As a totality it will no longer of itself swallow up the person I am in my feelings, who I am now in this time, always different.

Last summer I sent a lorry loaded with canvases to Italy. When it arrived in Rome, it turned out that the gallery had shut down, without any prior notice. I told the dealer, a great connoisseur, that I did not want to send them to another location. You have to be hard in these matters, in any case a kind of rage overcame me, which I am now better able to master, but was not yet then, no, of course I had to fight against it all the way, cutting off my nose to spite my face, I do rather do that sometimes, but “to thine own self be true”, eh, that’s the most important thing isn’t it?! Naturally I ended up footing the bill, and then I’m the boss! You know the feeling, don’t you?

Gauguin should surely have also known that although you thought of him as the greatest he was not in your world of feeling, your world of spiritual painting: you gave so much and received so little! But good that he has written to you again; he will live to regret having left such an accommodating brother in art standing in the cold. Although, Vincent, everyone is naturally entitled to safeguard his own individuality. You are like a whirlpool. Your thoughts suck up everything, searching for material you can use in your work. Your oeuvre, which constantly grows in number and moves like a traveller through the history of art, the late Romantic period. After each valley a new one reveals itself, and infinity opens itself time after time.

That black cat that you portrayed in the painting of the garden at Daubigny, don’t you also think that it’s rather too big? I saw the work recently at your beloved brother’s in Paris. You have captured the movement well, that is how a cat walks, stalks: a predator that inspires no awe in us. And how beautifully fine are your brushstrokes! You have now been lightened by acceptance and giving up the struggle, and even though you still despair, full of doubt of your vocation, you will touch people in the future, that is certain, nobody can now remain indifferent to what you have wanted to say, even if it is now clear that it may all have been for nothing after all, although the price was too high for it to have been for nothing, still you have known enjoyment, and you still live with the palette in your hand, the paint on your skin, and like me you never tire of painting. It is our raison d'être, we exist by the grace of the artistic struggle, and its power determines the intensity of our will to live and to breathe. The brushstroke is not paint alone, but breath, air and scent, dark ochre, shining grain, the promise of satiation, food for a new tomorrow, harvest, a rich store.

Let the new painting be one of richness, in feeling and colour, rich in associations, but with a simplicity that is honest and speaks sincerely. An honesty that is genuinely reserved, which does not reveal itself easily, let it glow as a shining example, as a dawn, but not without depth, not without reflection.

I must also write to you concerning the question of the complementary colours, which I now find rather dated, although not without consequence, but is it really necessary that it is prominent in an area where feeling should actually have the upper hand? Here I tend more towards the harmonies of the ancients. Look again at the work of our so dearly beloved…

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