A Teapot, Heads of Garlic, and Old Shoes

One of the things I enjoy doing these days is wandering through galleries at the Metropolitan Museum. Before I go, I scope out a painting or two (or three) that I want to make sure and see. Inevitably, and also delightfully, I end up standing in front of one I’d not seen before, like Gaughin’s Still Life with Teapot and Fruit (1896), or revisiting one of the many pairs of shoes van Gogh painted that I’d forgotten was at the Met.

The shoes reminded me of my friend Curt musing, “You can almost see Vincent waking up and noticing that it’s raining, deciding it will have to be an indoor still life that day, and wondering what would he do for subjects? And often magic ensued.” That single statement has led me to be on the lookout for van Gogh’s “indoor” subjects, one recent discovery of which was his “Red Cabbages and Garlic” (1887), which peeks through the collage at the head of the post.

One thing that struck me, as I put together the collage, was its perhaps too-large area of faded blue. Turns out there’s a reason for that:

“It’s important to realise that the colours in this still life have changed over time. The tablecloth is now greyish-blue but was originally purple. That formed a strong contrast with the yellow of the garlic and of the right upper background.” [cite]

I wish it were possible to recreate the painting with its original intensity, but even though faded, it’s still full of wonder. I do hope I’ll be able to get back to the Van Gogh Museum one day to see it “live.” Meantime, I played around with it, for better or worse (likely the latter). The end result includes an overlay of the “Shoes” (1888) at the Met Museum, along with smaller images of both those shoes and another pair. The home for the second pair of “Shoes” (1887) is, it turns out, in the Van Gogh Museum:

“Dirty old shoes: this was not the first time that Van Gogh painted this unusual subject. These ones have worn soles and sagging elastic. He had a preference for things ‘that bore the scars of life’.” [cite] Behind the silhouette of the shoe cut out below you’ll find a bit of one of van Gogh’s glorious outdoor paintings, “Enclosed Field with Rising Sun” (1889).

But back to Gaughin: I had lying around a copy of Gaughin’s “Landscape with Peacocks” (1892), for which I’d been wanting to find a collage-home, and “Still Life with Teapot and Fruit” seemed a plausible spot for it:

This left me with Gaughin’s irresistible teapot, which seemed somehow right at home with some of van Gogh’s “Enclosed Field with Rising Sun” and “Grass and Butterflies” (1887).

Along the way of putting together this post, I ran across a useful Metropolitan Museum essay on Post-Impressionism. It’s always interesting to me how terms like “post-Impressionism” gain currency, whether it makes sense or not. Here’s what the essay relates:

“These artists, often working independently, are today called Post-Impressionists. Although they did not view themselves as part of a collective movement at the time, Roger Fry (1866–1934), critic and artist, broadly categorized them as “Post-Impressionists,” a term that he coined in his seminal exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists installed at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1910.”

I’ve chosen Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 (1899-1901) to accompany this post, in honor of our friend RG who, at 90+ years, heard it, her first Mahler Symphony ever, and reported she was completely sold. With thanks to Brian Long, who some years back wrote a wonderful guest post on this symphony, which you can read here.

6 thoughts on “A Teapot, Heads of Garlic, and Old Shoes

  1. shoreacres

    In your last collage, I was struck by the seeming transformation of the teapot into a watering can. It’s a fun thought, since Gaughin could be a bit contrary at times, and he did ‘grow’ wonderful gardens — just like that ‘contrary Mary’ of the nursery rhyme.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Love this association. The teapot actually reminded me of some watering cans we have owned over time, and I thought, for that reason, it looked right at home in the grass.

  2. Curt Barnes

    I was all set to announce a preference for the Gauguin “Peacocks” collage but now am not sure. The “Enclosed field” shoes may be more poetic. Another takeaway was how MANY shoe paintings Vincent painted; either I’d forgotten or never seen all. (The two in my memory you haven’t taken on). Q: wonder if his signature meant a special status for paintings he thought better than others? (one with a hobnail sole in Baltimore has his “Vincent”) No doubt the subject of a scholarly study or two or five.

  3. Susan Scheid Post author

    So of course I had to scout around to see whether there existed any scholarly studies. On a couple passes, I came across this: “A half dozen philosophers and art historians have written about [one of] van Gogh’s painting[s] of shoes, including Martin Heidegger, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida.” https://harpers.org/2009/10/philosophers-rumble-over-van-goghs-shoes/

    As to the collages here: The one that came closest in result to what I had in mind was the Gaughin. The problem with van Gogh for me is that I find his paintings so enthralling and distinctive that I can’t really see them simply as raw materials. I like to spend time with them, though, and this seems to be one way to do that. One might call these collages homages, though other, less flattering words might serve better. Nonetheless, I persist . . .

    1. Curt Barnes

      Enjoyed your link, Sue, so thanks for that. My own question related to the signatures, not the shoes per se. (I noticed that Vincent signed only two of the shoe paintings, but not others) I easily found a convincing answer from a historian. From Liesbeth Heenk, “Van Gogh specialist”: “Van Gogh only signed those works that he considered ready to be sold or exchanged with other artists.” (Arguably an optimist: “ready to be sold.”)

      1. Susan Scheid Post author

        Right, I wasn’t precisely responding to your particular question in what I linked; actually, I must confess, forgot the issue you raised was the signatures, so intrigued was I on finding so much scholarly discussion existed about the shoes themselves. Interesting to ponder how he might have made the judgment “ready to be sold.” Is there any other artist on record whose genius was as completely misjudged during his lifetime? (I suspect you will have ready examples.)

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