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March 26, 2018


Beth, it's interesting that you've translated the olive trees and their landscape in a soft, gentle visual language. The sun-stroked hardness or bony structure doesn't play a major role in your version as it did, for instance, to Van Gogh. Apart from technical considerations, such as the medium of watercolour or that you're working (I assume)from photos, I wonder how much the whole complex process of seeing and translating what one sees into any visual or verbal form is influenced by what one is familiar with, built into one's DNA as it were? I guess I'm just stating the obvious: that no two people see any thing in the same way. But it's a question I often ask myself concerning the process of looking/drawing/painting figuratively - i.e. 'from life'.

I am reminded of Van Gogh's letter to Emile Bernard:

So right now I'm working in the olive grove in search of all sorts of effects of grey sky against yellow soil, with a grey-green hue in the foliage, and then again with the soil and the leaves all purple against a yellow sky, or a red-ochre soil and green-pink sky. Yes, I do find that more interesting than the above-named abstractions.


I am telling you about these canvases, and about the first one in particular, to remind you that one can express anguish without making direct reference to the actual Gethsemane, and that there is no need to portray figures from the Sermon on the Mount in order to express a comforting and gentle motif.

Natalie, yes, I'm sure we all have a built-in "filter" that affects how we see and what we see, though I try to clear that as much as I can! This partcular landscape WAS soft, and in the late afternoon light, all we could see were rows of silvery light green leaves; the branches and trunks were very secondary. In this place I also had a vantage point that looked down on the orchard, making the tops of the trees dominant, while Van Gogh often sat (I think) on the ground, looking up into the branches or down the rows, which would have emphasized the wood and twisted trunks. And of course, he was tormented in ways I am not and found echoes of his struggle in nature. Like you say, no two people see "Life" the same way, either in art or in daily existence. Thanks for your thoughts here.

Marly, yes, exactly. Thank you very much for these quotes. I read Van Gogh's poignant and honest letters a long time ago and they've stayed with me. I feel an affinity even though, as I wrote in response to Natalie, we're very different people.

The French edition of Van Gogh's letters to Theo has been with me for so long it's falling to pieces, the pages are yellowed and brittle but Vincent's strength and integrity still shines through. I don't think any other artist has left such a profound and personal legacy, not necessarily only through his art but as a human being. I don't mean to put him on a pedestal or to say that his paintings are 'greater' than x, y or z but there is something unique about the directness in which his inner life coalesced into his work, as if injected into the bloodstream-paint.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.