Experiencing spring in one of the world’s temperate zones for the first time in 14 years excites my senses in similar fashion to the way artist Vincent Van Gogh must have felt upon moving from Paris to the colorful countryside of Arles in southern France in 1888. Van Gogh had found Paris to be dull and gray just as Brussels had been, and he longed to be in a place that was warm and colorful.
Colour expresses something in itself. One can’t do without it; one must make use of it. What looks beautiful, really beautiful — is also right.
Vincent to his brother Theo, c. 28 October 1885
While I’ve had the good fortune to live in a variety of the world’s tropical regions that would have surely delighted Van Gogh’s senses, I’d forgotten how spectacularly beautiful temperate landscapes can be as they emerge from a long, cold winter’s sleep. The myriad shades of green and red budding deciduous trees, along with furiously blooming everything, make me feel like a child seeing the natural world for the first time.
Moving to Arles delighted Van Gogh to such a degree that he feverishly began painting the surrounding fields of lavender and blossoming fruit trees. Between February 1888 and May 1889, Van Gogh created an astonishing 200 paintings and more than 100 drawings and water colors. His liberal use of paint, vivid colors, rapidly applied brush strokes and keen sense of light seem to transform his two-dimensional canvases from this period into animated works that dazzle the viewer. It was during this time that the artist produced what would become his most celebrated paintings.
Ever since first viewing a print of one of Van Gogh’s famous paintings at a young age, I’ve felt a personal affinity for his work. When I later read about his somewhat tortured existence, it only helped cement my feelings of empathy for him. Surely, the line between creative genius and madness is very thin indeed.
For the past week as I’ve gazed at multi-colored flowering trees and vast yellow fields of canola gently waving in the breeze, I’ve been thinking a lot about those last two years of Van Gogh’s life. Even as he reached his peak of creativity, he simultaneously grew increasingly less stable psychologically, finally dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890 at the age of 37.
While I have no intention of imitating Van Gogh’s tragic life, I am very grateful to the artist for sharing his unique artistic perspective and love of natural beauty. I’ll also continue to celebrate his life while being mesmerized by the striking colors of spring as they unveil their magic.
Learn more about Vincent Van Gogh’s life and work at: