‘Loving Vincent’ is stunning animated oil painting, with every scene painted lovingly in the style of its subject and featuring many of the characters from Van Gogh’s greatest works. It is like the artist had painted his own life story, except had this been an autobiography one suspects that the subject would not have been treated so sympathetically. For Vincent, we learn, inspired much love, but never quite enough to overcome his own lack of self-worth.
A late-starting artistic genius, who created 800 wonderful paintings in career of just eight years, the film portrays Vincent inspired by everything and everyone around him, compelled to pick up his brush so he can express his tenderness and love for the natural and human world’s alike. He saw beauty not only in flowers and waving fields of crops, but in a chair, the thatch of a roof, and most of all in the faces of the ordinary people whose lives he shares.
We all know that Van Gogh was also troubled, cutting off his own ear in distress at falling out with an artist friend and going on to paint some of his greatest masterpieces while subsequently recovering in an asylum, until ultimately killing himself.
Or did he? The plot of ‘Loving Vincent’ revolves around the efforts of Armand Roulin, a postmaster’s son, to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother, Theo, and his subsequent quest to piece together the final moments of Vincent’s life.
Roulin is disquieted to learn that while Van Gogh sent a letter to his brother every day of his adult life, he failed to write a suicide note. In his last letter he refers to feeling calm and normal. The gun he supposedly used to shoot himself was never found and the bullet entered his stomach, an unusual and awkward place for someone to direct a gun at themselves. There is suspicion about a love affair, a jealous artist of lesser talent, and some tormenting teenagers.
Yet Roulin also learns of the Van Gogh’s troubled life, born to middle-class parents who rejected him for failing to live up to their aspirations and an image of perfection posthumously endowed on an older still-born brother. Until the age of 28 Vincent lived down to their expectations, falling in and out of work and becoming somewhat dissolute. Then he discovered painting and a medium through which he hoped to demonstrate his worth.
Eight years later he had changed the face of art, although he didn’t live to realise it and famously only sold one single painting while alive.
‘Loving Vincent’ also strives to show that, while troubled, Van Gogh also inspired affection in most of those who got to know him. Eschewing the established art world, his friends were the ordinary people of Auvers and Arles, from the postmaster to the inn-keeper and his daughter. Since his death, of course, his art has brought joy to millions more, just as Dorota Kibiela and Hugh Welchman’s film will bring pleasure to all who see it.
It certainly worked on me and as the final chords of ‘Starry, Starry Night’ fade out on my headphones, the clouds outside my flying tin can have parted and England’s green and pleasant land is revealed in all it’s June-sunshine glory. Vincent would be desperate for a canvass and some paint, but it’s time for me to switch back to working reality, before heading to the mountains of Wales for a holiday and, hopefully, many more vistas that Vincent would have loved.