He started with crude footwear belonging to Dutch peasants, the potato eaters for whom he felt such camaraderie while making his transition from man of God to man of art.
In Arles, he painted the shoes of everyday people, showing his strong empathy with the struggles of their lives.
His still life of shoes from Arles, painted against the background the red tile floor of his home, is striking. Even more than his exciting pictures of star-filled skies and of robust sunflowers. It reveals a gentle sensitivity that contrasts like fire and rain with the way he lived and the impression he made on others.
Van Gogh failed at trying to follow the footsteps of his father, serving as a minister. Then, he tumbled from Holland to France in hopeless pursuit of becoming a renowned painter. Y
But he failed almost completely as an artist.
If it wasn’t for his devoted brother Theo, Vincent might have given it up to survive as a tradesmen, leaving us without the spectacular artwork that draws millions to museums and galleries every year.
Unfortunately, to Theo we can also credit the idea for hooking Vincent up with Paul Gauguin.
He was also a bit crazy but in a different way. Their stormy friendship seems to have yielded — or extracted — some of Vincent’s ear after a dispute.
Just because he handed over the detached body part to a brothel for safekeeping doesn’t mean it was a love offering.
With Vincent Van Gogh, who knows?
Vincent Van Gogh spent a lifetime passionately troubled by one thing after another. The passion shows up in his paintings, not so much the trouble. There is turbulence in his plein air work, but its rhythms harness the chaos. Like other creative people, his efforts might have been therapeutic.
Van Gogh put his heart into his work — and his spleen, stomach and lungs. Van Gogh got it all out.
Back to the shoes. In painting the still lifes, he found and recorded impressions about the people who wore them. The footwear has more character lines and emotional depth than the faces in his portraits.
What Sam likes about Vincent’s shoes is the pleasure of their being set aside on the tile floor of the home where he battled Gauguin.
After working hard all day, they relax. The toil is over. For Sammy too, as he helps close out this book of famous artists’ cats by curling around them, the loose ends still untied, like great art, never resting completely.