[Viewpoint] Taking comfort in Vincent’s nameThe Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Art Museum in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, had been exhibiting Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces from Paris’ Musee d’Orsay before it had to close after being swamped by landslides from Mount Umyeon following heavy torrential rain.
The 130 valuable works of Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, including his masterpiece “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” were saved because the art museum is located relatively higher inside the arts complex.
Korea could have faced astronomical damage compensation and international disgrace and fury if any one of the artworks were ruined. Some may sneer at the fuss over the artwork when people lost their lives from the landslide, but the value of masterpieces is priceless.
On July 27, 1890, the sound of a gunshot pierced through the small countryside town of Auvers-sur-Oise, an hour and a half train ride from Paris. A man had pulled the trigger into his own chest but surprisingly did not die immediately. When the sun started to set, he instead pulled himself up and trudged back to his dwelling, a tiny attic room in Auberge Ravoux, where the famous painter spent his last 70 days of his life. His physicians rushed to his side but failed to remove the bullet from his body. It was too dangerous for them to operate and too risky to move him to a city hospital. He lay in bed wounded for nearly two days and died in the presence of his brother, Theo van Gogh, at 1:30 a.m. on July 29. He left no will.
Vincent van Gogh had rented the room on May 21, immersing himself in his creative work before taking his own life. When he was not asleep, he painted, drew nonstop and created 53 paintings during his final 70 days. Aware of his fits of mental despair, he fought back his worst demons and, in desperation, poured out onto the canvas whatever was left of him. His later paintings contain inexplicable spiritual color and power from intense concentration.
Even without knowledge of art, people stop in front of his painting to contemplate the untold stories behind the vivid colors and details. His paintings and drawings have special influence that speak directly to the soul. The power comes from the extraordinary will of a stubborn soul who aimed to maintain control over his destiny and art, regardless of worldly demands and expectations.
While areas surrounding Mount Umyeon were swept by landslides, the area in front of the Seoul Arts Center, which is located at the foot of the mountain, remained safe. The modern buildings that make up the arts complex were not the only protection against the landslides. Even nature paid respect to the great artworks being displayed there.
Van Gogh had a short life of just 37 years. But few call his abbreviated life a failure. He endured long sufferings and was resurrected to symbolize hope. The artist fought to the end to protect what he valued most - artistic perfection.
For artists, the biggest source of frustration and dejection do not come from financial deprivation but from deprivation of inspiration and will to create.
Van Gogh had been poor all his life, but his material want had not stopped him from drawing. His physical and spiritual hindrances and his desperate fight to conquer them manifested into a great form of art that delivers comfort and inspiration to people around the world after more than a century.
We hope his enduring and visionary works of art can render even a small amount of comfort to the people who lost their loved ones and homes from the recent natural disaster.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Chung Jin-hong