1 Van Gogh's Great Life | Traveling Light Blog by Travel Writer Colleen Friesen

Van Gogh’s Great Life


On the Threshold of Eternity

On the Threshold of Eternity – Wikipedia


I was, once again, shamelessly eavesdropping.

It’s what I do.

We were in Amsterdam’s spectacular Van Gogh Museum (Van Gogh is not pronounced Van Go. Uh uh…it’s pronounced more like ‘cough’ but say the word like you’re clearing your throat for one of those terrible winter commercials that like to gross me out with the words ‘phlegm’ and ‘mucous’).

I was immersed in another incredible painting…stunned by all the Van Gogh’s I’d never seen before. I was pondering all that I’d read and been reminded of:

  • What must it have been like for Vincent to have been supported by his brother Theo for his entire life?
  • What was it like, in spite of his spectacular output, for him to never realize his dream of living from his art?
  • What was it like to be twisted and tormented by such huge depression?
  • What was it like to spend a year in a French asylum?
  • Or to fight with Gauguin, the one artist-friend who came to visit  and stay with him, in his dream of creating an artists’ retreat?
  • To cut off his own ear (or as some theories suggest, have it cut off by Gauguin in a bloody altercation?
  • To finally commit suicide (or to have been murdered? No gun was ever found at the scene??) at the age of 37.

The man behind me was speaking in that confidential tone reserved for the best type of secrets, the kind of voice that always grabs me and cues me to listen harder.

“I think,” he said, “that if one is going to do something great in life…”

I took a step back, and then oh-so-casually shuffled closer, studiously pretending that I needed to get closer to examine the thick brush strokes of the painting in front of us.

He cleared his throat. I stole a sideways glance. They were Japanese men, both with greying temples, one wore glasses. Their clothes were conservative, tailored, expensive. I turned away before one of them began speaking again.


Van Gogh – Wikipedia


He started again. “Yes,” he said, “I think if one is going to do something great, they cannot live a normal life.

They moved on. I stood there, mulling his words. Judging by the volume of people swarming around me, there was no doubt that Van Gogh is known as a great artist.

But did he have a great life?



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4 Responses
  1. Lesley Peterson says:

    Does one have to be happy (or happy all the time) to have a great life? Vincent had the devotion of his brother and the will to paint from vivid life under stiff winds and blazing sun. My favorite painting: the beautiful blossoming tree he gave as a gift to his newborn nephew. RIP Vincent. Loved then, loved now. Thank you for this post, Colleen.

  2. Colleen Friesen says:

    Lesley, I don’t think we have to be happy all the time to have a great life. I really am not sure what IS a great life. Aren’t all lives great in their potential? I really don’t know how to qualify it and that’s why I wrote this post. I don’t know the answer (surprise?!?!)
    But I have to think that Vincent must have had his best moments when he was in ‘the zone’ of creativity.
    I had never seen that blossoming tree painting until this trip and it’s the one I picked as one of my favourites too. It embodies spring and life. That could only have been painted by someone who was completely immersed in the moment.

  3. Sand In My Suitcase says:

    Now we’re getting an inferiority complex! We’ll never be GREAT travel writers – as in famous and published widely (though one should never say never, right?). Though we think we’re pretty good writers :-). And we’re happy ones.

  4. Colleen Friesen says:

    Janice, I think contentment is a sign of a great life :) To be happy with what you’re doing is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

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