“Discharged from hospital

Van Gogh rents the Yellow House in Arles and invites Paul Gauguin to come and work with him there. But they soon have disagreements. After a heated argument Van Gogh becomes disoriented and cuts off his own left ear [23 December 1888]. He is admitted to the hospital in Arles and discharged on 7 January 1889.

Start working

On that day, he writes to his brother Theo that he intends to start working on two still life’s the following day, to ‘get used to painting again’. One of these is Still life with a plate of onions, painted in contrasting colours. The drawing board consists of almost horizontal brushstrokes, while the background is composed of vertical brushstrokes.

Objects

The objects indicate that Van Gogh has picked up the routine of everyday life again: the letter from Theo, the plate of onions, the pipe with tobacco, the bottle of wine or absinth, the pot of coffee, the calendar with the burning candle, the stick of sealing wax, the box of matches and finally, the book Annuaire de la santé about good nutrition and hygiene.” – [1].

This work isn’t considered Van Gogh’s masterpiece. It is, however, altogether more important. In still life with a plate of onions, Van Gogh sets out his manifesto to fight for life and sanity – after a notorious mind-altering episode only days earlier. Perhaps more important than any salon entry piece, Van Gogh is laying out what will keep him alive.

It’s the most important painting of his life.

The drawing board. I am going to ease myself back into this thing.

The onions. Gabrielle Berlatier.

The white plate. Gabrielle gets this.

She’s on my drawing board too.

The book. “Annuaire de la santé”, good nutrition and hygiene. Gabrielle, again.

The letter. Received from my beloved Theo. But, I’ll show it upside down. He’s marrying Johanna in April.

Pipe and tobacco. Nice. On my board.

A box of matches and (ah) red sealing wax, laying next to an outlying candle that’s lit, oddly, in the daytime. (Why?). The red sealing wax is not for the letter that’s already arrived.

The green bottle of Absinthe that is not on my drawing board at all.

The coffee pot that is not on my drawing board at all. (Why?).

I’m going to get better again.

 

References:

[1] http://krollermuller.nl/en/vincent-van-gogh-still-life-with-a-plate-of-onions