This is called Portrait of Patience Escalier done with reed pen and ink over graphite on paper, 1888. Vincent wrote to Theo: “Shortly you are going to make the acquaintance of Mr. Patience Escalier, a sort of man with a hoe, former drover of the Camargue, now gardener at a farm in the Crau. Today I am sending you the drawing I made after this painting.”
Vincent painted two portraits of Patience Escalier. I prefer the warmer tones of the version I’ve included.
As I mentioned in part 1, Van Gogh was keenly interested in the life of peasants and workers, so it’s no surprise that he drew and painted so many.
When I first saw this portrait, I was stunned at how much Van Gogh was able to portray in the eyes of Patience. Van Gogh shows me a person who has worked very hard in life, who has suffered much, but someone who also seems kind. It made me think that Van Gogh could never have captured all these qualities so clearly without having recognized and experienced them himself.
For all you painters and non-painters alike, Van Gogh’s thoughts on being active and facing fears are timely: “If one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of failures, one must not be afraid of making some mistakes. Many people think they they will become good by doing no harm; that’s a lie…it leads to stagnation, to mediocrity….
“Just dash something down when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face with a certain imbecility. You do not know how paralyzing that staring of a blank canvas is; it says to the painter, You can’t do anything. The canvas stares at you like an idiot, and it hypnotizes some painters, so that they themselves become idiots. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the really passionate painter who is daring – and who has once and for all broken that spell of ‘you cannot’….”
Vincent was always worried about draining his brother’s resources. One of the circumstances that most surely must have contributed to his deepening depression toward the end of his life was that Theo was married and recently had a child and was feeling financial strain. Vincent did not want to be a burden to his brother.
Theo was at his brother’s side when Vincent died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Vincent’s recent paintings were hung around his coffin. The coffin itself was covered with yellow sunflowers and dahlias. Theo is quoted as saying: “It was his favorite color, if you remember, symbol of the light that he dreamed of finding in hearts as in artworks.” Theo was heartbroken and perhaps drained from caring for his brother and family. Theo died 6 months later and the two brothers are buried side by side in France.
After having read so many excerpts of Van Gogh’s letters, studied his drawings and paintings, I feel like he has become a friend and mentor. While he had to suffer so much during his lifetime – and depended on his brother Theo for monthly monetary help to survive (remember, he was not selling any of his paintings at the time, though Theo, as an art dealer, tried to sell them) – he nonetheless managed to create a monumental body of art that continues to inspire.