Vincent had discovered the laws of colour while he was living in Nuenen, and found them 'unutterably beautiful'. Around the same time, excited by the analogies he now understood between painting and Wagner's music, he took lessons from the organist of St Catherine's Church in Eindhoven, a man called Vandersanden. These were not a success: Vincent continually compared music chords with Prussian blue or cadmium yellow, so that the organist concluded that he was dealing with a madman.A little known connection between Vincent van Gogh and Wagner's music uncovered in The Yellow House - Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford.
It is true that synaesthesia, experiencing one sensation in terms of another, can be found in those suffering from mental problems and those under the influence of hallucinogens. But if Vincent was mad in this respect, so were many other artists and musicians. Gauguin claimed that when he looked at a Delacroix, he had 'the same feelings as after reading something'. When he heard a Beethoven quartet, 'I leave the hall with coloured images that vibrate in the depth of my soul.'
Cézanne, Gauguin declared, seemed to be a pupil of César Franck: 'He is always playing the organ.' His work wasn't just polychromatic, it was polyphonic.
Wagner Dream is the new opera by Jonathan Harvey that, in a neat example of synchronicity, was highly acclaimed at the 2007 Holland Festival. The starting point of Jonathan Harvey's opera is Die Siegers (The Victors), Wagner's planned but unwritten opera which was to be based on a Buddhist legend about the love of a lowcaste servant girl for a monk.
The starting point of Martin Gayford's excellent book is the self-portrait that Van Gogh painted in Arles and sent to Gaugin in Brittany. The painting, which is seen below, is described as follows in the book:
Few observers would have guessed the guise that the painter took on in this picture. Vincent had, he wrote to Gauguin, 'aimed at the character of a simple bonze worshipping the eternal Buddha'. That is, he had painted himself as a Japanese monk.
The header painting is Van Gogh's Wheatfield and Cypresses, which was painted in June 1889 at the asylum he was confined to outside Saint-Rémy after threatening Gauguin. I visited the former asylum in 2006, read the story and see my photos here.
The Yellow House - Van Gogh, Gauguin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford was borrowed from Norwich library. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk