the mysterious objects on his kitchen desk

Nonetheless Life with a Plate of Onions (January 1889) is a extremely private portray, reflecting Van Gogh’s life after the disaster with Gauguin in Arles. Vincent had mutilated his ear simply earlier than Christmas 1888, after which he was rapidly hospitalised. On being discharged on 7 January, he was impatient to choose up his paintbrushes. 

That night he wrote to his brother Theo: “I’m going to get again to work tomorrow, I’ll start by doing one or two nonetheless lifes to get again into the way in which of portray.” Nonetheless Life with a Plate of Onions was one of many first photos that he accomplished, a couple of days later. It was in all probability executed in his modest kitchen.

After coming back from two weeks in hospital, Vincent naturally derived nice pleasure from his on a regular basis possessions in his very own residence. In Nonetheless life with a Plate of Onions his trusty pipe and packet of tobacco are on the entrance, together with a helpful matchbox. The lit candle is on the prepared—for lighting his pipe, for studying or for melting the adjoining purple sealing wax required on registered letters. Mendacity on the letter is a burnt match or fireplace taper.

The e book is a well-thumbed paperback copy of François Raspail’s Manuel Annuaire de la Santé, a well-liked nineteenth century information for dwelling treatment. Having endured a psychological assault and a severe wound, Vincent will need to have been looking for cures. On the time he additionally suffered from insomnia, and was following a really useful treatment from Raspail’s handbook.

F.V. Raspail’s Manuel Annuaire de la Santé (1882 version)

Within the foreground of the nonetheless life stands an open bottle. The silver-foil prime means that it’s absinthe, though it’s unclear whether or not the bottle is full or empty. On the again is a inexperienced water jug, helpful for diluting absinthe. Gauguin later wrote that Van Gogh had thrown a glass of absinthe at him once they had had a row a couple of days earlier than the ear incident.

Most curious are the onions, whose symbolism stays obscure. However they clearly had an necessary which means for Van Gogh, since he additionally prominently included them, alongside along with his beloved pipe and tobacco, within the portray of his chair, which was accomplished a couple of days after the nonetheless life.

Van Gogh’s Chair (December 1888-January 1889)

Credit score: Nationwide Gallery, London

Even the furnishings stays mysterious in Nonetheless Life with a Plate of Onions. At first look the wood floor with the various objects seems to be a desk prime, however trying extra carefully it might be a board—maybe a drafting board, a transportable table-top writing desk and even a big kitchen chopping board. And what are the water pitcher and absinthe bottle standing on—might they be benches? As with fairly numerous Van Gogh’s Arles work, the attitude is intentionally barely askew.

However probably the most intriguing object in Van Gogh’s assemblage is the envelope, positioned within the foreground. The envelope (introduced the other way up) is addressed in Theo’s handwriting to “Monsieur Vincent van Gogh” in Place Lamartine.

Clues on the envelope recommend that that is the letter with the money allowance that Vincent had obtained on 23 December. A brown ‘R’ mark for recommandé (registered) and the blue 15 franc and light-weight ochre 25 franc stamps making up the value of a registered letter recommend that it included money. The quantity 67 refers back to the Paris submit workplace in Place des Abbesses, close to Theo’s house, and the bigger black double circle is the Abbesses postmark. 

Whether it is certainly the letter that Vincent obtained on 23 December, then that is extremely vital. Round six days earlier, Theo had develop into engaged to Jo Bonger, so the letter would then nearly definitely have conveyed information of the upcoming marriage. And it was that very night of 23 December that Vincent mutilated his ear.

Vincent could have feared that his brother’s engagement may threaten his common allowance, which enabled him to make his profession as an artist. If he had been delighted by the information, he would hardly have mutilated himself a couple of hours later.

Though it’s seemingly that the envelope depicted is that of Theo’s letter of 23 December, its which means within the still-life stays extra elusive. Does its inclusion within the portray a month later imply that Vincent had come to simply accept Theo’s relationship? Or did he stay disturbed by the engagement?

Though Vincent later despatched most of his Arles work to Theo in Paris, this was among the many comparatively few that he left behind in Might 1889 when he moved to the asylum simply outdoors Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Nonetheless Life with a Plate of Onions was given to his pals Joseph and Marie Ginoux, who ran the close by Café de la Gare. They offered it in round 1896. 

The nonetheless life was acquired in 1913 (for the equal of £1,300) by Helene Kröller-Müller, who later arrange her museum in Otterlo. Though its contents clearly relate to Vincent’s frame of mind after the ear incident, this extremely private portray nonetheless holds many secrets and techniques.

Different Van Gogh information:

A tiny fragment of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem copied out by Van Gogh has been doing the rounds, turning up at a string of current auctions—in three international locations. Afternoon in February was transcribed as a part of six pages of assorted texts copied out by Vincent in an album belonging to Annie Slade-Jones, his landlord in Isleworth, west London, the place he lodged in 1876 (when he was a trainer in England). 

Van Gogh’s transcribed textual content of Longfellow’s Afternoon in February, the primary six stanzas Credit score: © courtesy of Aguttes, Neuilly-sur-Seine

All the album got here up on the market at Sotheby’s in 1976 and once more a yr later, nevertheless it remained unsold on each events. It will definitely went for a comparatively modest £550 in 1980. Tragically, the Van Gogh pages had been later faraway from the album and sliced into small sections, just like the relics of a saint.

The 4in fragment with the primary 5 stanzas of Longfellow’s Afternoon in February was later purchased by the French firm Aristophil, which was declared bankrupt in 2015. The sixth stanza had been sliced off and is now on the Getty Analysis Institute in Los Angeles. In 2018 the five-stanza fragment was put up on the market at Paris-based Aguttes, estimated at €20,000-€25,000, nevertheless it didn’t promote. Ultimately Aguttes offered it in April this yr, for €14,300.

The fragment quickly reappeared in Boston, with RR Public sale, the place on 10 August it was estimated at $40,000 (€39,000), however as soon as once more it didn’t promote. For anybody nonetheless , it has crossed the Atlantic once more. It’s now in Spain, developing on the Malaga-based Worldwide Autograph Auctions on 29 November 2022, estimated at €30,000-€40,000. One suspects this fragment of Vincent’s handwriting has been circulating amongst traders, not collectors.

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