Tag Archives: France

Vincent and Theo


In 1990, Robert Altman directed the movie Vincent and Theo, concerning the relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother.  The fine actor Tim Roth plays Vincent.  The equally fine Paul Rhys plays his brother Theo. It was originally made as a 4-hour BBC mini-series, which the director Altman compressed into a feature film. Rolling Stone called the Altman movie “a masterpiece.” But then, lots of Altman films are known as masterpieces.

The film brilliantly evokes the times in Paris and in the south of France.  There is nothing very picturesque about poverty in either place.  Vincent’s brave attempts to create a stable life for himself are heartbreaking.

“Memory of the Garden at Etten,” Vincent van Gogh, 1988, Public Domain

In 1888, during his troubled time with his painter friend Paul Gaugin in Arles, van Gogh painted his mother’s garden at Etten from memory.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever see the original; it’s at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  It’s a stunning painting.  Vincent wrote about it to Theo:  “A reminiscence of our garden at Etten with cabbages, cypresses, dahlias and figures…Gaugin gives me courage to imagine and the things of the imagination do indeed take on a more mysterious character.” Which of the figures is van Gogh’s mother?  One of the sad-looking figures in the foreground?  Or the woman bent over her garden in humble hard work?  Maybe they all represent his mother, or his childhood, in some way.  I think this painting would have had deep meaning for the brothers who shared so much.

Having recently visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I gave the film another look.  I have always thought of Theo as the long-suffering, conventional patron of his tortured genius brother.  In the film, interestingly, Theo comes across as equally troubled.  In fact, he sometimes seems more tortured than VIncent.  At least Vincent always has his single-minded determination to paint.  Theo has self-doubts.  Why is he stuck working in art galleries?  Why can’t he afford to get married?  Finally he does marry, in spite of suffering from syphilis.  Then he has a wife and colicky baby to add to his troubles.


Theo was always in frail health.  In fact, he died just a few months after VIncent’s death.  The brothers are buried side by side in Auvers. When I visited, a few years ago, the cemetery adjoined a cornfield that could have come straight out of a van Gogh painting. The same ivy vine intertwines and covers the graves of the two brothers. It’s a lonely trek to see the graves; this is not a major tourist attraction. The brothers’ relationship, troubled as it was, gave us the gift of Vincent’s paintings, which always attract clumps of viewers in museums lucky enough to own them. Vincent could not have painted his masterpieces without the love and support of his brother Theo.

I wrote about Vincent’s mother and their loving relationship in a previous post at  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/05/09/thanks-for-eve…m-love-vincent/

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

To Dance in France

Arriving in Strasbourg, France on a Sunday evening, I came upon a group of people gathered to dance in the moonlight in the plaza between the cathedral and the palace of the bishops.  It looked like a weekly gathering of friends, mostly young but some old. The setting could not have been more elegant.

The magnificent Gothic cathedral took about 400 years to build.  It was completed in 1439. During the French Revolution, it became a Temple of Reason.  HItler visited in 1940, after his armies steamrollered across the French border. He wanted the landmark cathedral to become a “refuge for the German peoples.” The city of Strasbourg was only returned to France after Germany’s defeat.


The Baroque Palais Rohan was built between 1731-1742.  It was once occupied by Hapsburg bishops under the Holy Roman Empire.  At one time Napoleon Bonaparte took over and remodeled parts of it to his own taste.  Actually, it is hard to find a corner in Europe where Napoleon did not make some kind of mark.


Through centuries of political changes, the local people have carried on their own cherished traditions no matter who ruled them.  Dancing is one such tradition.  Before each dance that I watched, a pair of young women conferred with a flutist and a violinist.  Then they all began a tune, blending in sweet harmony.  Couples stepped, promenaded and twirled around the musicians.  The dances were graceful, but fairly simple and repetitive.  I imagine they’ve been performed at weddings and village festivals for generations.

Maybe because dancing was so important Strasbourg, it once got out of hand.  In 1518, there was a Dancing Plague.  Several hundred people were victims of a kind of mass hysteria which caused them to dance nonstop for weeks.  Most if not all of them finally died of heart attacks or exhaustion.

The dancers I watched on a clear fall evening looked happy and healthy.  Long may they dance!