The seven to ten years of Vincent van Gogh’s artistic career, the artist was supported by his younger brother Theodorus Van Gogh. Theo was a successful art dealer at Goupil & Cie Gallery in Paris. As the years ran on, Vincent could see the stress and challenge Theo was facing trying to support his wife, his son Vincent Willem Van Gogh, and his older brother Vincent. As Vincent moved into his later mid-30s, the weight shouldered by Theo began to take its toll on the artist.
Vincent became manic in his production of drawings, paintings, and letters to his brother Theo. We can read between the lines and see that the artist understood the task his brother Theo was trying to juggle. The artist continued to nurture his creative impulses while straining under the weight of being a burden—financially and emotionally on his brother Theo—and his letters became more and more melancholy in nature.
Apparently Vincent felt the only recourse to him was to be removed from the picture. In late July of 1890, Vincent shot himself in the abdomen. The wound was not immediately fatal. Vincent lived long enough for Theo to leave Paris and come to his bedside in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Vincent literally died in Theo’s arms.
What Vincent didn’t realize in his melancholy state of mind, was how deeply Theo loved and admired his older brother Vincent. There are letters and correspondence with other family members where Theo expressed his challenge of feeding his family and supporting Vincent. But, deep down inside, Theo had a great love for his brother. It has long been believed that Theo, who had a very good eye for modernist art, felt his brother Vincent was gifted and would be successful as an artist/painter with time.
Theo’s love for Vincent was such that the younger brother could not emotionally offer a eulogy at Vincent’s funeral. Several weeks after Vincent was buried, Theo rented a room in Paris, invited family, artists, critics, patrons, and other, to hear his “belated” but emotionally charged eulogy. Phillip Stephens wrote a play called Van Gogh and Leonard Nimoy adapted the Stephens’ play into a traveling two-act, a one-person play called Vincent.
In the Nimoy play, the actor plays Theo and offers the younger brother’s insight and feeling for Vincent. In the second-act, Nimoy steps forward to the apron of the stage, looks out at the audience, and says: “When will you stop? When will you stop? What do you expect? What do you want your artists to be?…If the artist sacrifices his comfort, his strength, his very life to bring you his special vision of beauty to decorate your halls, must he also be dressed by your tailor”?
“…must he also be dressed by your tailor”? We talked about “What do you want your artists to be”? I now ask you: “must he also be dressed by your tailor”?
Photograph of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh