Vincent Van Gogh in London
Posted on 12 August 2011, 16:26
After the recent riots in London and beyond, it seems appropriate to publish an extract from my book, Conversations with Vincent Van Gogh, published by Whitecrow.
The conversation is imagined but Vincent’s words are not. In this extract, we talk about his stay in London. He took such delight in the city; but experienced sadness there as well:
V: Oh, and I remember Acton Green. It was surprisingly muddy, but was a beautiful sight when it began to grow dark, and the mist rose and one saw the light of a small church in the middle of the green. And to the left were railway tracks on a rather high embankment and at that moment a train came, and that was a beautiful sight, the red glow of the locomotive, and the rows of lights inside the carriages in the twilight. To our right, a few horses were grazing in a meadow surrounded by a hedge of hawthorn and blackberry bushes.
SP: It seems you never stopped walking in London.
V: And Hyde Park at 6.30 in the morning! The mist was lying on the grass and the leaves were falling from the trees, and in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street lamps, that hadn’t yet been put out; and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and the sun rose red in the morning mist.
SP: I’d like to stand where you did.
V: From there, I travelled onto Whitechapel, that poor district of London which Dickens writes of; and then travelled home for part of the way on the underground railway, since I’d received some money from Mr Jones.
SP: Did you have friends in London?
V: The Gladwells were my friends.
SP: You’d known their son Harry when you were in Paris.
V: Yes, and I remember visiting him when he was home for a few days. Something very sad had happened to his family. His sister, a girl full of life, with dark eyes and hair, 17 years old, fell from her horse while riding at Blackheath. She was unconscious when they picked her up, and died five hours later without regaining consciousness.
V: I went there as soon as I heard what had happened. It was a long walk to Lewisham, from one end of London to the other. On my arrival, they had all just come back from the funeral. It was a real house of mourning and it did me good to be there. I had feelings of embarrassment and shame at seeing the deep, estimable grief; for these people were estimable.
SP: And you caught up with your friend Harry.
V: I talked with Harry for a long time, until the evening, about all kinds of things. And we walked up and down on the station, talking; those moments before parting we’ll probably never forget.
SP: You felt close.
V: We knew each other so well. His work was my work, his life was my life and it was given to me to see so deeply into their family affairs, because I loved them. Not so much because I knew the particulars of their family affairs, but because I felt the tone and feeling of their being and life.
SP: You found it hard to say goodbye.
V: We walked back and forth on that station, in that every day world, but with a feeling that was not every day.
SP: That’s a nice way of putting it.
V: They don’t last long such moments, and we soon had to take leave of each other. It was a beautiful sight looking out from the train over London that lay there in the dark, with St Paul’s and other churches in the distance. I stayed in the train until Richmond, then walked along the Thames to Isleworth. That was a lovely walk: on the left, the parks with their tall poplars, oaks and elms; on the right, the river reflecting the tall trees. It was a beautiful solemn evening; I got home at a quarter past ten.
SP: And then life took you back to Holland; but with many memories.
V: I remember looking out of my windows one night, onto the roofs of the houses one sees from there; and the tops of the London elms, dark against the night sky. Above those roofs, one single star; but a nice big friendly one.
SP: You like stars.
V: And I thought of us all – the family, friends – and I thought of the years of my life that had already passed, and of our home, and the words and feeling came to me: ‘Keep me from being a son that causes shame. Give me your blessing not because I deserve it, but for my mother’s sake. You are love and hear all things. Without your constant blessing we can do nothing.’
SP: A closing prayer, as the curtain closed on London; and rather different adventures beckoned.
Conversations With Van Gogh by Vincent Van Gogh with Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.
Conversations With Vincent Van Gogh