Vincent Van Gogh’s “Long Grass with Butterflies”

 

“Long Grass with Butterflies” was painted at the end of Van Gogh’s stay at the Saint-Paul Asylum, since renamed the Clinique Van Gogh. In his letters, he described the “abandoned gardens” depicted in the painting, in which “the grass grows tall and unkempt, mixed with all kinds of weeds.”

We cannot speculate about his mental or emotional state, but the fact that these “abandoned” gardens are behind an asylum is poignant and telling in itself. Van Gogh’s characteristically vibrant colors are underscored with a discordant black, and the eponymous black-outlined butterflies are beautiful when found, but are nearly lost in the chaotic, kinetic landscape.

The viewer of the garden is looking downwards, limited to a perspective that is quite literally depressed. Beyond the long, untended grass we can see a thin, faraway footpath with an unseen destination, as well as the beginnings of trees that are abruptly cut off. The world has become very small, this tells us–small and loud with tantalizing signs of an expansive elsewhere just outside of our field of vision.

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Proust, Picasso, and Prose Poetry: Swann’s Way as an Emptying of Impressions

“The thing that I want to insist upon is that Picasso’s gift is completely the gift of a painter and a draughtsman, he is a man who always has the need of emptying himself, of completely emptying himself, it is necessary that he should be greatly stimulated so that he could be active enough to empty himself completely.”

So says Gertrude Stein in her intimate, lyrical biography of Picasso, which is not so much a chronology of his life as it is a love letter to his artistry. Among many other things, she submits that Picasso’s creative impetus derived from a need to empty himself of certain reverberating impressions; he would become captivated, even tormented by an idea or image, and by painting, he would purge that image from his mind and be done with it.

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