Generously backed by my sponsor Bob Tickler I am organising short tours of Van Gogh’s works in Amsterdam, Utrecht and the Louvre Paris. It’s quite a daunting task so l welcome the opportunity of a trial run with Daphne Colthard helping with the hotels restaurants. We got off to a lively start as I thought Bob might get arrested as he had a furious row with security at Heathrow. He does not have an intuitively calm relationship with the modern airport denouncing it as a glorified shopping mall with no concern for the traveller. After he was frisked he exploded
“Touch my balls again man, and you will get your p45 within the hour!” Within the presence of the frisker, he grabbed his mobile, called Polly – though without his belt and braces his trousers were falling down – and bereft of his Church’s brogues, all in a crate, he dictated a letter to Willie Walsh the CEO of BA ” My dear Willie …” which made a few passengers laugh. The admirable Polly concerned by his rising blood pressure managed to calm him down. Later I saw him at the bar of an expensive sea food restaurant regaling a stewardess from Singapore Airlines of the time when his godfather was arrested in Monte Carlo for wearing swimming trunks in his Bentley. His godfather, a millionaire property developer who had the Military Cross, ordered the Chief of Police in cod French not to smoke on duty installing a life-long loathing in Bob of those silly enough to impose any sort of authority on him.
We went directly to the Van Gogh museum after landing at Schiphol airport. Van Gogh only sold one picture in his lifetime and his collection of paintings, a vast one as he was a proilific artist and writings passed to his sister in law Joanne. As a young woman with child you might have thought that she had enough to do but she edited all his letters and kept all his art. This passed to her son Theo Willem and on his death the museum opened as its principal beneficiary. It thus houses the best collection of his works.
Despite the numerous visitors it was just about possible to appreciate the collection. Even when he was mentally ill locked up in an asylum he managed virtually a picture a day. There was the most beautiful blue blossom he presented to his nephew Theo Willem on the occasion of his marriage totally at odds with has troubled soul tormented by demons. Interestingly a cornflower scene in Arles with crows poised might have been an augury of his death aged 37. He had little success in any vocation: indeed before he became a painter his various attempts at a career – including being a schoolmaster in Ramsgate and a lay preacher in Isleworth – ended in failure, as did a stint in his brother’s flourishing art business. At 27 he was unemployable. He never had a art lesson and it’s something of a mystery as to where his talent to draw was drawn. Unlike many artists he neither started young nor painted to a great age. David Hockney for example was already a successful painter by 1961. Van Gogh had a prodigious output but only between 27 and 37.
Daphne approved the Grand Hotel Carel V in Utrecht where we are staying but I will leave her to review that.
Today we are visiting another important collection at the Kroller-Muller Rijksmuseum at Otterlo.