A tale of two artists leaves some questions about genius

The 1888 work is in The National Gallery

Since the Van Gogh presentation, I have been looking more closely at my print of his “Chair” that has been hanging between the window and the corner of my living room. It is somewhat obscured by my ficus tree that has been flourishing since I moved it away from the window.

My friend, James, at my request, movedt the “Chair” to my bedroom opposite my bed. In its frame it is 36 inches by 28. Not a miniature.

The first night as I gazed at it I wondered what Vincent had in mind (if anything) when he painted it. It is a simple wooden chair with a woven seat where someone, probably Van Gogh, had left his pipe and packet of tobacco.

Every now and then the lights and shadows in my room made it seem as if there was a ghost in the lower corner trying to sit on the chair. I began to feel uncomfortable and wondered if I could coexist with the chair night after night. I counted the pieces of wood that had been carpentered together to make it – a surprising 15 separate pieces of wood had been rounded, tapered or squared into parts and put together without nails to make the chair. Then the seat had been woven and fit into it. Life, I decided, can be as simple or as complex as Van Gogh’s chair, depending how you see it.

Another artist whose life had to be far more complex than simple and who probably couldn’t be more different from Van Gogh was Leonardo Da Vinci. Someone described Da Vinci as “the man who wanted to know everything.” I think he nearly achieved that goal.

Born in 1452 to an unwed peasant and the town clerk, he was raised by his father. His mother married someone else, as did his father. And between the two of them gave Leonardo 17 half brothers and sisters, none of whom have we ever heard of, as far as I know.

Known for his painting, Da Vinci, also a sculptor, was an architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, cartographer and writer, to name some of his other talents. He also built models for a bicycle, a car, tanks, and other war toys. His contribution to the knowledge of the human anatomy was amazing and accomplished by his own work on cadavers.

Examples of all of these inventions are on display in replicas at the huge exhibition in the Antigua Aduana. As well, of course, reproductions of The Last Supper (and you cannot convince me that the apostle identified as John is not a woman) and the Mona Lisa. The first time I saw the Mona Lisa was at the Louvre in Paris. One painting, all by herself that you could gaze at for as long as you liked. At the exhibition, more than an entire room is devoted to her. I saw enough versions of the Giaconda and her smile to last me a lifetime.

There are young men and women guides who will help disconfuse you as to just what some of the inventions are for. There are also two cafes in the hall just as you think you
really need some refreshment and a rest. One is POPS and the other sells coffee and pastries.

And there are wheelchairs for those who are not up to standing and walking for three hours. I am told that the entrance is $15, with discounts to those holding ciudadanos de oro, school groups and probably others.

Two great painters, one, born on March 30, l853, to a middle class cultured family, who didn’t start painting until he was 28 and worked feverishly to produce a huge body of work in less than 10 years when he died by his own hand at age 37.

The other, born almost exactly four centuries earlier (April 15, 1452), was the illegitimate child of a peasant woman, who was exposed to art and books at an early age. Da Vinci began as an apprentice to a painter, and spent a life time until his death at 67 exploring and depicting the possible creations of the human mind, and who had many unfinished projects because, we are told, was a great procrastinator. Just think if he weren’t!

Both were born under the modern Zodiac sign of Aries. There is also nature, nurture, opportunity, alcohol, a certain time in history. What is it that makes a tortured artist and/or a creative genius?

This entry was posted in Friday Column. Bookmark the permalink.