Saturday, 9 April 2016

MUSIC SATURDAY - PIETER HELLENDAAL

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” - MartinLuther

Pieter Hellendaal (Born: April 1, 1721 –Died; April 19, 1799, aged 78) was an Anglo-Dutch composer, organist and violinist. He was sometimes distinguished with the suffix “The Elder”, after the maturity of his musician son, Pieter Hellendaal the Younger. At age 30, he migrated to England where he lived for the last 48 of his 78 years. He was one of the most famous composers of Dutch origin in the 18th century.

At the age of eleven Pieter was appointed as an organist of the church of St Nicolas in Utrecht. Five years later his family moved to Amsterdam where he studied with Tartini. By 1743 he was playing the violin in public performances and earned the right to publish music by 1744. For a short time Hellendaal was a student at the University in Leiden and even made appearances at The Hague.

By 1751 he had left for London where he was afforded ample opportunites to perfrom and compose. In the performance of Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” Hellendaal performed solo music between acts. The composition “Glory be to the Father” (a canon) received an annual award from The Gentlemen's Catch Club and contemporaneously his six sonatas for violin and continuo were published.

When he was age forty, in 1762, Pieter moved to Cambridge, where the musical enthusiasm in academic circles around the University allowed him to settle down for the rest of his life. First, he was hired as an organist for Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was able to teach, give concerts, and compose. Fifteen years later, in 1777, he was appointed organist in the Chapel of Peterhouse where he worked until he died 37 years later in 1799, at age 78.

The characteristics of Hellendaal’s music included typical conventions of Italian Baroque music. He assiduously followed the practice of thoroughbass with single thematic devices. Violin sonatas followed the slow-fast-fast, three movement structures of Tartini and his concertos were dominated by fugues and liberation of the viola part.

Peter Hellendaal, a.k.a. “The Younger” was born circa 1756 in London and given his father’s name. He became a violinist, clarinetist, and arranger/composer. He actively collaborated in his father’s self-publishing during the 1790s, helping send to market a stream of various musical publications. For example, to serve the needs of parish churches, he selected and arranged for publication pieces from the Elder’s Collection of Psalms and Hymns. This publication also included one of Peter’s own compositions. The last notice of Peter’s life was from 17 April 1801 when he was the soloist in a benefit concert which performed a concerto written by his father. He died later that year, at the age of 45, outliving his father by only two years.

Here are six Cello Sonatas by Pieter Hellendaal the Elder (op. 5, 1780), played by soloist Jaap ter Linden, Ton Koopman, harpsichord continuo and Ageet Zweistra, cello continuo.
No.1 - 0:00
No.2 - 8:28
No.5 - 19:45
No.6 - 31:33
No.7 - 43:52
No.8 - 54:42

Friday, 8 April 2016

FOOD FRIDAY - RED VELVET CAKE

“One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.” - Johann Wolfgang vonGoethe

Some time ago we visited a friend and she served us Red Velvet Cake. It was quite easily the best we had until that time. We had asked for the recipe, but as we were leaving we forgot about it. It was nice of her to remember and she sent us the recipe by mail. I was surprised to find what the secret ingredient of the cake was, which had made it quite zingy: Sour cherry syrup! This is a sweet and sour syrup made from Morello cherries. We often use this at home for a number of delicious dishes. The simplest thing is to drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, elevating the taste greatly. Here, in this recipe the syrup is spread over the cake, adding to the moistness and improving the flavour of the cake.



Red Velvet Cake
Ingredients – Cake
250g butter, softened
660 g white sugar
4 eggs
30mL red food colouring
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
375g plain flour
250mL buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Ingredients – frosting
375g white chocolate
500g cream cheese, softened
250g butter, softened
Sour cherry syrup (available in bottles in continental groceries)


Method
Preheat oven to 170˚C. Grease and flour three 20cm cake tins.
In a large bowl cream the butter and the sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix food colouring with cocoa and add to mixture.
Add flour alternately with buttermilk. Add the vanilla essence.
Mix the bicarbonate with the vinegar, and gently stir into mixture. Be careful not to over mix. Divide batter into three prepared 20cm round cake tins. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Test with a skewer to see if the cake is cooked. Allow to cool.
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler and allow to cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in melted white chocolate and softened butter. Beat until it is the consistency of whipped cream.
Assemble the cake by placing the bottom layer on the serving dish and soaking the top with a couple of tablespoonfuls of sour cherry syrup. Put a layer of frosting on top of this and set the next layer of cake on top. Add syrup and frosting and repeat for the final layer, finishing off by frosting the whole of the cake.

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Thursday, 7 April 2016

ALL ABOUT TARRAGON

“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” - Alice May Brock

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a species of perennial herb in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. It is widespread in the wild across much of Eurasia and North America, and is cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes in many places. One sub-species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb. In some other sub-species, the characteristic aroma is largely absent. The species is polymorphic. Informal names for distinguishing the variations include “French tarragon” (best for culinary use), “Russian tarragon” (typically better than wild tarragon but not as good as so-called French tarragon for culinary use), and “wild tarragon” (covers various types).

Tarragon grows to 120–150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2–8 cm long and 2–10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2–4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. French tarragon, however, seldom produces any flowers (or seeds). Some tarragon plants produce seeds that are generally only sterile. Others produce viable seeds. Tarragon has rhizomatous roots and it readily reproduces from the rhizomes.

French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile; instead it is propagated by root division. It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased. A perennial, it normally goes dormant in winter. It likes a hot, sunny spot, without excessive watering.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.) can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavour when compared to the French variety. However, Russian tarragon is a far more hardy and vigorous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a meter tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soils and happily tolerates drought and neglect. It is not as strongly aromatic and flavoursome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. Russian tarragon loses what flavour it has as it ages and is widely considered useless as a culinary herb, though it is sometimes used in crafts. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute.

Horticulturists recommend that Russian tarragon be grown indoors from seed and planted out in the summer. The spreading plants can be divided easily. A better substitute for French tarragon is Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida), also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or winter tarragon. It is much more reminiscent of French tarragon, with a hint of anise. Although not in the same genus as the other tarragons, Spanish tarragon has a stronger flavour than Russian tarragon that does not diminish significantly with age.

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil), and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavouring component of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar. Tarragon is used to flavour a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and, by extension, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The drink, named Tarhun is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and coloured bright green. In Iran, tarragon is used as a side dish in sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), or in stews and in Persian style pickles, particularly ‘khiar shoor’. In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a variation of the traditional nut roll sweet cake, called potica. In Hungary a popular kind of chicken soup is flavoured with tarragon.

Béarnaise Sauce
Ingredients
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2 cm cubes
3 tablespoons minced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

Method
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and a pinch of salt and pepper; stir to coat. Stir in vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vinegar is evaporated, 3-4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low and continue cooking shallots, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer shallot reduction to a small bowl and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, fill a blender with hot water to warm it; set aside. Melt remaining 1 cup butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is foamy. Transfer butter to a measuring cup. Drain blender and dry well. Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in warm, dry blender. Purée mixture until smooth.
Remove lid insert of blender. With blender running, slowly pour in hot butter in a thin stream of droplets, discarding milk solids at bottom of measuring cup. Continue blending until a smooth, creamy sauce forms, 2-3 minutes. Pour sauce into a medium bowl. Stir in shallot reduction and tarragon and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

POETS UNITED - CITIZENSHIP

“I am neither an Athenian nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Socrates

The theme for this week’s Poets United Midweek Motif is “Citizenship”. We live in turbulent times where the mass migration of people is in the news every day. Refugees; political or economic migrants; victims of persecution – religious or otherwise; oppressed people, homeless and desperate risk limb or life in order to find their place in the sun, a country that will accept them and where they can live their life in peace and with dignity.

Many years ago, my family had to leave Greece as the direct result of the political situation in Greece at the time. We resettled in Australia. Had we not left, my parents could have been the victims of the regime of the Colonels’ Junta that was characterised by its intolerance, cruelty, violence, injustice, fanaticism and boundless tyranny. Australia welcomed my family and provided an asylum that allowed us to prosper and contribute meaningfully and valuably to its community and society.

I consider myself a Greek-Australian and although I have never denied or betrayed my country of origin, my allegiance is to the country that accepted my family in our time of need. Sometimes people here ask me what would happen if Australia and Greece were at war. Which country would I support? The question is hypothetical but in such a case neutrality would be my only option. I would be one of the conscientious objectors who would try to convince both sides of the futility of war…

I an Australian citizen who happens to have been born in Greece and who lived the first ten years of his life there. I am neither a Greek nor an Australian, but a citizen of the world…

Citizenship

My homeland is betrayed
By a leader whose bloody reign
Has robbed my children
Of their carefree games
In playgrounds that have been blown up by bombs.

My hometown unrecognisable,
By degrees destroyed
As fractious factions
Escalate the violence
So easily destroying what was painstakingly built.

My home has been made rubble
By my neighbours
Whose loyalties changed,
And from childhood friends
They’ve become bitter enemies out to kill.

We leave it all behind us,
Risking our lives and willingly sacrifice all,
To search for a better place
Where children can smile again
And where my family may live, or maybe even prosper.

I renounce my allegiance,
Tear up my citizenship
Relinquish my nationality,
Abandon all that ties me
To that hellish place I once called proudly home.

Let my erstwhile compatriots
Wielding power call me a traitor;
Let my defection be condemned
By fanatics who take the name of my God in vain.

I am a citizen of the peaceful place that will accept me
And I am willing to work my fingers to the bone
To make there a better world, build a new home
A place where life is worth living again.

Here is a wonderful piece by Ariel Ramirez, “La Peregrinacion” from “Missa Criolla” telling of the flight of a persecuted family to try and find a haven away from the wrath of a mad king - Joseph and Mary and the Christchild escaping to Egypt…

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

TRAVEL TUESDAY #21 - LONDON

“The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” - David Russell

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel!

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest of us! Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only.

Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.
The Tower Bridge (built 1886–1894) is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of London. Tower Bridge is one of five London bridges now owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates, a charitable trust overseen by the City of London Corporation. It is the only one of the Trust’s bridges not to connect the City of London directly to the Southwark bank, as its northern landfall is in the Tower Hamlets.

The bridge consists of two bridge towers tied together at the upper level by two horizontal walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal tension forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge on the landward sides of the towers. The vertical components of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reactions of the two walkways are carried by the two robust towers. The bascule pivots and operating machinery are housed in the base of each tower.

The bridge deck is freely accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians, whereas the bridge’s twin towers, high-level walkways and Victorian engine rooms form part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, for which an admission charge is made. The nearest London Underground tube stations are Tower Hill on the Circle and District lines, London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines and Bermondsey on the Jubilee line, and the nearest Docklands Light Railway station is Tower Gateway. The nearest National Rail stations are at Fenchurch Street and London Bridge.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

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Monday, 4 April 2016

MOVIE MONDAY - COCTEAU'S ORPHÉE

“Film will only became an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” - Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau was a French poet, librettist, novelist, actor, director and artist (born July 5, 1889, Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris, France - died October 11, 1963, Milly-la-Forêt, near Paris). Some of his most important works include the poem L’Ange Heurtebise (1925; “The Angel Heurtebise”); the play Orphée (1926; Orpheus); the novels Les Enfants terribles (1929; “The Incorrigible Children”) and La Machine infernale (1934; The Infernal Machine); and his surrealistic motion pictures Le Sang d’un poète (1930; The Blood of a Poet) and La Belle et la bête (1946; Beauty and the Beast).

Cocteau grew up in Paris and always considered himself Parisian by speech, education, ideas, and habits. His family was of the solid Parisian bourgeoisie (cultivated, wealthy, and interested in music, painting, and literature). Cocteau’s earliest memories had to do with the theatre, in popular forms, such as the circus and the ice palace, as well as serious theatre, such as the tragedies performed at the Comédie-Française. At age 19 he published his first volume of poems, La Lampe d’Aladin (“Aladdin’s Lamp”).

Cocteau was the product of the years immediately preceding World War I, years of refined artistic taste that were devoid of political turmoil. His real exploration of the world of the theatre began when he encountered the Ballets Russes, then under the direction of Sergey Diaghilev. When Cocteau expressed a desire to create ballets, Diaghilev challenged him by saying: ‘Étonne-moi’ (“surprise me”). This famous remark seems to have guided the poet not only in his ballets, such as Parade (1917), with music by Erik Satie, and Le Boeuf sur le toit (1920; “The Ox on the Roof”), with music by Darius Milhaud, but also in his other works; and it is sometimes quoted in his plays and films.

During World War I, Cocteau served as an ambulance driver on the Belgian front. The landscape he observed there was later used in his novel Thomas l’imposteur (1923; “Thomas the Imposter”). He became a friend of the aviator Roland Garros and dedicated to him the early poems inspired by aviation, Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance (1919; The Cape of Good Hope). At intervals during the years 1916 and 1917, Cocteau entered the world of modern art, then being born in Paris; in the bohemian Montparnasse section of the city, he met painters such as Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani and writers such as Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire.

Soon after the war, Max Jacob introduced Cocteau to the future poet and novelist Raymond Radiguet. The 16-year-old Radiguet, who appeared to be a prodigy, advocated an aesthetic of simplicity and of classical clarity, qualities that would become characteristic of Cocteau’s own work. The example of Radiguet counted tremendously for Cocteau; and when Radiguet died in 1923, at age 21, the older man felt bereft of a friendship that had been based upon a constant interchange of ideas, encouragement, and enthusiasms. An addiction to opium, brought on by Cocteau’s grief over his lover’s death, necessitated a period of cure. Jacques Maritain, a French Thomist philosopher, paid his first visit to Cocteau in the sanatorium. Through Maritain, Cocteau returned briefly to religious practice.

These complex experiences initiated a new period in his life, during which he produced some of his most important works. In the long poem L’Ange Heurtebise the poet engages in a violent combat with an angel that was to reappear continually in his works. His play Orphée, first performed in 1926, was destined to play a part in the resurrection of tragedy in contemporary theatre; in it, Cocteau deepened his interpretation of the nature of the poet. The novel Les Enfants terribles, written in the space of three weeks in March 1929, is the study of the inviolability of the character of two adolescents, the brother and sister Paul and Elisabeth. In 1950 Cocteau prepared the screenplay for a film of this work, and he was also the film’s narrator.

Cocteau had enlarged the scope of his work by the creation of his first film, Le Sang d’un poète, a commentary on his own private mythology; the themes that then seemed obscure or shocking seem today less private and more universal because they have appeared in other works. Also in the early 1930s Cocteau wrote what is usually thought to be his greatest play, La Machine infernale, a treatment of the Oedipus theme that is very much his own. In these two works he moved into closer contact with the great myths of humanity.

In the 1940s Cocteau returned to filmmaking, first as a screenwriter and then also as a director in La Belle et la bête, a fantasy based on the children’s tale, and Orphée (1950), a re-creation of the themes of poetry and death that he had dealt with in his play. Also a visual artist of significance, Cocteau in 1950 decorated the Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and began a series of important graphic works: Frescoes on the City Hall in Menton, the Chapel of Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, and the Church of Saint-Blaise-des-Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. His adopted son, the painter Édouard Dermit, who also appears in his later films, continued the decoration of a chapel at Fréjus, a work Cocteau had not completed at his death at age 74.

We recently watched again his 1950 film “Orphée” (Orpheus), starring Jean Marais, François Périer and María Casares. The film appeared as striking and as poetic as the first time I had watched it. While based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Cocteau makes of this an allegorical and magical tale of love, death and the meaning of life. It is a surrealistic masterpiece and one can become immersed in it again and again, becoming lost in its symbols, drawing new meaning with each viewing and enjoying again and again the amazing images.

The film is set in post-war, bomb-damaged France of the late 1940s. Orphée (Marais) is a self-absorbed poet, living in splendid isolation with his beautiful wife Eurydice in. Times are changing and Orphée’s popularity is waning as a new wave of poets is winning the new generation. As a poet he feels slighted and he goes into town with the intention of facing the new age. However, he is snubbed and he becomes enraged. The leader of the new poets, the young Jacques Cegeste, is caught up in a brawl in a bar, which spills out into the street and he is killed by a motorcyclist. Orphée, an innocent bystander, is taken away in a black limousine with the lifeless body of Cegeste by a beautiful and mysterious Princess to a deserted house.

Time runs backwards in this house and the way into the underworld lies through mirrors. Orphée falls in love with the Princess (and so falls in love with his own death). Cegeste’s followers advise the police that Orphée is responsible for the young poet’s death. Ultimately Orphée has to choose between between the Princess and Eurydice, his wife.

Marais was Cocteau’s lover for a time and that’s why he probably landed the role of Orphée. He looks quite like the aesthete poet – self-admiring and narcissistic, obsessed with his reflection in the many mirrors of the film. Maria Casares steals every scene she is in as the Princess/Death, playing her role with aplomb and great gusto. François Périer does a marvellous job as Heurtebise, the Princess’s assistant who “breaks the rules” and falls in love with Orphée’s wife. Juliette Greco plays a small but memorable role, and Maria Dea as Eurydice seems rather insignificant in the film’s main themes – or rather her death is quite the catalyst…

It is an amazing film, the closest poetry comes being filmed. A brilliant masterpiece of a complex and wonderfully creative mind. If you are interested in art, poetry, literature, philosophy, myth and symbolism, you will simply love this film!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

ART SUNDAY - VAN GOGH

“I want to give the wretched a brotherly message. When I sign my paintings ‘Vincent,’ it is as one of them.” – Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, in full Vincent Willem van Gogh (born March 30, 1853, Zundert, Netherlands, died July 29, 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, France), was a Dutch painter, generally considered the greatest after Rembrandt, and one of the greatest of the Post-Impressionists. The striking colour, emphatic brushwork, and contoured forms of his work powerfully influenced the current of Expressionism in modern art. Van Gogh’s art became astoundingly popular after his death, especially in the late 20th century, when his work sold for record-breaking sums at auctions around the world and was featured in blockbuster touring exhibitions. In part because of his extensive published letters, van Gogh has also been mythologised in the popular imagination as the quintessential tortured artist.

Van Gogh, the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor, was born and reared in a small village in the Brabant region of the southern Netherlands. He was a quiet, self-contained youth, spending his free time wandering the countryside to observe nature. At 16 he was apprenticed to The Hague branch of the art dealers Goupil and Co., of which his uncle was a partner. Van Gogh worked for Goupil in London from 1873 to May 1875 and in Paris from that date until April 1876. Daily contact with works of art aroused his artistic sensibility, and he soon formed a taste for Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and other Dutch masters, although his preference was for two contemporary French painters, Jean-François Millet and Camille Corot, whose influence was to last throughout his life. Van Gogh disliked art dealing. Moreover, his approach to life darkened when his love was rejected by a London girl in 1874. His burning desire for human affection thwarted, he became increasingly solitary.

He worked as a language teacher and lay preacher in England and, in 1877, worked for a bookseller in Dordrecht, Netherlands. Impelled by a longing to serve humanity, he envisaged entering the ministry and took up theology; however, he abandoned this project in 1878 for short-term training as an evangelist in Brussels. A conflict with authority ensued when he disputed the orthodox doctrinal approach. Failing to get an appointment after three months, he left to do missionary work among the impoverished population of the Borinage, a coal-mining region in southwestern Belgium. There, in the winter of 1879–80, he experienced the first great spiritual crisis of his life. Living among the poor, he gave away all his worldly goods in an impassioned moment; he was thereupon dismissed by church authorities for a too-literal interpretation of Christian teaching. Penniless and feeling that his faith was destroyed, he sank into despair and withdrew from everyone. It was then that van Gogh began to draw seriously, thereby discovering in 1880 his true vocation as an artist. Van Gogh decided that his mission from then on would be to bring consolation to humanity through art. This realisation of his creative powers restored his self-confidence.

His artistic career was extremely short, lasting only the 10 years from 1880 to 1890. During the first four years of this period, while acquiring technical proficiency, he confined himself almost entirely to drawings and watercolours. First, he went to study drawing at the Brussels Academy; in 1881 he moved to his father’s parsonage at Etten, Netherlands, and began to work from nature. Van Gogh worked hard and methodically but soon perceived the difficulty of self-training and the need to seek the guidance of more experienced artists. Late in 1881 he settled at The Hague to work with a Dutch landscape painter, Anton Mauve. He visited museums and met with other painters. Van Gogh thus extended his technical knowledge and experimented with oil paint in the summer of 1882. In 1883 the urge to be “alone with nature” and with peasants took him to Drenthe, an isolated part of the northern Netherlands frequented by Mauve and other Dutch artists, where he spent three months before returning home, which was then at Nuenen, another village in the Brabant.

He remained at Nuenen during most of 1884 and 1885, and during these years his art grew bolder and more assured. He painted three types of subjects (still life, landscape, and figure) all interrelated by their reference to the daily life of peasants, to the hardships they endured, and to the countryside they cultivated. Émile Zola’s ‘Germinal’ (1885), a novel about the coal-mining region of France, greatly impressed van Gogh, and sociological criticism is implicit in many of his pictures from this period—e.g., ‘Weavers’ and ‘The Potato Eaters’. Eventually, however, he felt too isolated in Nuenen. His understanding of the possibilities of painting was evolving rapidly; from studying Hals he learned to portray the freshness of a visual impression, while the works of Paolo Veronese and Eugène Delacroix taught him that colour can express something by itself. This led to his enthusiasm for Peter Paul Rubens and inspired his sudden departure for Antwerp, Belgium, where the greatest number of Rubens’s works could be seen. The revelation of Rubens’s mode of direct notation and of his ability to express a mood by a combination of colours proved decisive in the development of van Gogh’s style.

Simultaneously, van Gogh discovered Japanese prints and Impressionist painting. All these sources influenced him more than the academic principles taught at the Antwerp Academy, where he was enrolled. His refusal to follow the academy’s dictates led to disputes, and after three months he left precipitately in 1886 to join Theo in Paris. There, still concerned with improving his drawing, van Gogh met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and others who were to play historic roles in modern art. They opened his eyes to the latest developments in French painting. At the same time, Theo introduced him to Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and other artists of the Impressionist group.

By this time van Gogh was ready for such lessons, and the changes that his painting underwent in Paris between the spring of 1886 and February 1888 led to the creation of his personal idiom and style of brushwork. His palette at last became colourful, his vision less traditional, and his tonalities lighter, as may be seen in his first paintings of Montmartre. By the summer of 1887 he was painting in pure colours and using broken brushwork that is at times pointillistic. Finally, by the beginning of 1888, van Gogh’s Post-Impressionist style had crystallised, resulting in such masterpieces as ‘Portrait of Père Tanguy’ and ‘Self-Portrait in Front of an Easel’, as well as in some landscapes of the Parisian suburbs.

After two years van Gogh was tired of city life, physically exhausted, and longing “to look at nature under a brighter sky.” His passion was now for “a full effect of colour.” He left Paris in February 1888 for Arles, in southeastern France. The pictures he created over the following 12 months (depicting blossoming fruit trees, views of the town and surroundings, self-portraits, portraits of Roulin the postman and other friends, interiors and exteriors of the house, sunflowers, and landscapes) marked his first great period. In these works he strove to respect the external, visual aspect of a figure or landscape but found himself unable to suppress his own feelings about the subject, which found expression in emphatic contours and heightened effects of colour. Once hesitant to diverge from the traditional techniques of painting he worked so hard to master, he now gave free rein to his individuality and began squeezing his tubes of oil paint directly on the canvas. Van Gogh’s style was spontaneous and instinctive, for he worked with great speed and intensity, determined to capture an effect or a mood while it possessed him.

In Paris van Gogh had hoped to form a separate Impressionist group with Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others whom he believed had similar aims. He rented and decorated a house in Arles with the intention of persuading them to join him and found a working community called “The Studio of the South.” Gauguin arrived in October 1888, and for two months van Gogh and Gauguin worked together; but, while each influenced the other to some extent, their relations rapidly deteriorated because they had opposing ideas and were temperamentally incompatible.

Disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1888. Physically and emotionally exhausted, van Gogh snapped under the strain. He argued with Gauguin and, reportedly, chased him with a razor and cut off the lower half of his own left ear. A sensational news story reported that a deranged van Gogh then visited a brothel near his home and delivered the bloody body part to a woman named Rachel, telling her, “Guard this object carefully.” The 21st-century art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, however, examined contemporary police records and the artists’ correspondence and concluded that it was actually Gauguin who mutilated van Gogh’s ear and that he did so with a sword. Whatever transpired, van Gogh took responsibility and was hospitalised; Gauguin left for Paris.

Van Gogh returned home a fortnight later and resumed painting, but several weeks later, he again showed symptoms of mental disturbance severe enough to cause him to be sent back to the hospital. At the end of April 1889, fearful of losing his renewed capacity for work, which he regarded as a guarantee of his sanity, he asked to be temporarily shut up in the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in order to be under medical supervision. Van Gogh stayed there for 12 months, haunted by recurrent attacks, alternating between moods of calm and despair, and working intermittently: ‘Garden of the Asylum’, ‘Cypresses’, ‘Olive Trees’, Les Alpilles, portraits of doctors, and interpretations of paintings by Rembrandt, Delacroix, and Millet date from this period. The keynote of this phase (1889–90) is fear of losing touch with reality, as well as a certain sadness. Confined for long periods to his cell or the asylum garden, having no choice of subjects, and realizing that his inspiration depended on direct observation, van Gogh fought against having to work from memory. The best of his Saint-Rémy pictures are bolder and more visionary than those of Arles.

Van Gogh himself brought this period to an end. Oppressed by homesickness and loneliness, he longed to see Theo and the north once more and arrived in Paris in May 1890. Four days later he went to stay with a homeopathic doctor-artist, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a friend of Pissarro and Paul Cézanne, at Auvers-sur-Oise. Back in a village community such as he had not known since Nuenen, four years earlier, van Gogh worked at first enthusiastically; his choice of subjects such as fields of corn, the river valley, peasants’ cottages, the church, and the town hall reflects his spiritual relief. A modification of his style followed: the natural forms in his paintings became less contorted, and in the northern light he adopted cooler, fresh tonalities. His brushwork became broader and more expressive and his vision of nature more lyrical. Everything in these pictures seems to be moving, living. This phase was short, however, and ended in quarrels with Gachet and feelings of guilt at his financial dependence on Theo (now married and with a son) and his inability to succeed.

In despair of ever being able to overcome his loneliness or be cured, van Gogh shot himself. He did not die immediately. That evening, when interrogated by the police, van Gogh refused to answer questions, saying, “What I have done is nobody else’s business. I am free to do what I like with my own body.” Van Gogh died two days later. Theo, his own health broken, died six months later (January 25, 1891). In 1914 Theo’s remains were moved to his brother’s grave site, in a little cemetery in Auvers, where today the two brothers lie side by side, with identical tombstones.

Largely on the basis of the works of the last three years of his life, van Gogh is generally considered one of the greatest painters of all time. His work exerted a powerful influence on the development of much modern painting, in particular on the works of the Fauve painters, Chaim Soutine, and the German Expressionists. Yet of the more than 800 oil paintings and 700 drawings that constitute his life’s work, he sold only one in his lifetime. Always desperately poor, he was sustained by his faith in the urgency of what he had to communicate and by the generosity of Theo, who believed in him implicitly. The letters that he wrote to Theo from 1872 onward, and to other friends, give such a vivid account of his aims and beliefs, his hopes and disappointments, and his fluctuating physical and mental state that they form a unique and touching biographical record that is also a great human document.

The work above is ‘The Road Menders’ of 1889; Oil on canvas, 71 x 93 cm; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The painting is quite monumental, the four large trees separating the painting diagonally into halves. One the left, the passers-by and the houses, on the left the angular blocks of stone and the road menders. The women in black seem more substantial and solid than the lightly coloured road workers who ethereally seem to almost float above the road they are mending. Yellows predominate in the painting and they are tempered by greens and ochre-browns. The painting displays the style of St Remy based on dynamic forms and a vigorous use of line.