What if, Van Gogh, what if?
When you walk the same streets that Van Gogh did, you start to think “what if” questions.
What if Gauguin hadn’t joined Van Gogh in Arles? After all, he wasn’t the most dependable guy and could have been a no-show. Likely the “ear incident” wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps Van Gogh wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital and then the asylum. He might have stayed in Arles much longer. But would he have been as productive? Much of his work was done in anticipation of Gauguin joining him.
What if he had seen even a little success in his life? If he’d started to sell paintings, how would that have changed his outlook? After all Gauguin, and other Van Gogh contemporaries were starting to sell. Would this have boosted his confidence and changed his course?
What if Vincent had been luckier in love and had a more conventional life with a wife and perhaps children? This was a dream of his, and he fell desperately in love many times. But he was awkward, not easy to get along with and completely dependent on his brother financially. Not exactly a great catch. But still, an interesting, highly empathetic man, able to speak and write in Dutch, French and English, well-read in the classics and the literature of his time and certainly a hard worker. People have had worse mates!
What if his story hadn’t been so dramatic? Would his work command the prices it does, or is his story and his early death an integral part of the price?
What if he’d lived longer, say like Monet who lived to be 86 (who tried and failed to commit suicide at the age of 28) or Henri Matisse who lived to be 84? What might his output have been? If he’d lived to be 80, he would have died in 1933 and experienced WWI, the great depression, the invention of automobiles and air travel. Would he have become wealthy, like Monet, during his life? A longer life would have made for a completely different story.
What if, at the end of his life, he was put in the care of a competent doctor, instead of the very flaky Dr. Gachet? Could his life have been saved? After all, he lived for two days after he shot himself with a cheap revolver. No attempt was made to operate or intervene. Basically, Dr. Gachet waited for him to bleed to death or die of his infection, which he did.
What if he had actually gone to Japan, as was his fantasy, instead of Arles? For him, Arles was a substitute for Japan. After all, Gauguin ended up in the south seas, Degas visited and painted in New Orleans and Monet lived and painted in London for a time. It’s interesting to speculate what direction his painting might have taken had he been in a completely different environment.