VAN GOGH MUSEUM, Amsterdam.
Few hours left before the flight, what I actually planned was to see bookshops for the latest in humanities. Yet somehow my legs brought me to the open field of the Museumkwartier and I fancied to join the crowd of tourists to see Van Gogh.
The invisible and unspeakable painter. Multiplied in thousands of gadgets, on screens, on shopping bags, on silk scarves, on ball-pens, on t-shirts, reflected in the tourist's empty glance. The central margin, developing perpendicularly to the written page. Would I dare to speak about Van Gogh, comment on his painting?
I tried, two years ago. And I tried now, once again, writing on a free plattegrond I'd picked up somewhere, propelled by invisible force of the crab returned on its back, in the middle of a vibrant, cobalt green background. Symbol of an intellectual, the helpless precision of its pincers. Plant-like, flame-like hinter legs, struggling convulsively against the cobalt green, vibrating with tension. These characteristic short, rhythmic strokes of the brush, like tensors. The space surrounding the object belongs to it, communicates with it; the void is organized into a force field accompanying the helplessness of the animal.
The Zouave, eyes of a tiger, as the painter himself commented on him. Not for vividness or wildness, but for their yellow, inhuman absence of any affect. Staring still, staring blankly into the space. Together with the crab on its back, they form a pair in this museum, the margin of the supreme humanity of the potato eaters, of their boots, of their bibles, of their work. They both represent inefficiency.
And the stuffed flying fox, to complete the triangle with an inverted Christian image. The outstretched arms, even the convulsed toes of the animal connote the Crucifixion. The warm, interior light in the darkness, the light of the penitent Magdalena, mark the resurrection of the animal that the painter must have seen stuffed and dried. It isn't a Dutch bat for sure, it must be a flying fox from Indonesia, mirroring Rembrandt's love of oversea mirabilia. But there is nothing pagan about it any more. The nocturnal power of the animal is that of a pious recollection during the hours of darkness; the space, contrary to most of Van Gogh's paintings, remains still, smooth and quiet. The animal's flight is impossible, without flapping, suspended in eternity.
Here they are, strangers from other worlds, the crab, the zouave and the flying fox, marking the encounter of the painter with the unspeakable.
On the upper floor, there was the wheat field with the crows. The summit of the mountain, the most accomplished, the most complete painting ever painted. The end of the road.
I wonder why the modern painters are so much unable to face their "late style". I saw the old Rembrandt in the Rijksmuseum, unpaid, but in any other way in painter's complete mental health. Just too heavily in advance in relation to his own times, anticipating what art would become in its due time. But facing it bravely, stoically, as Van Gogh was unable to do. He was also vividly concerned with the "art of the future", working at a prodigious speed to reach it, yet unable to stand up to it, scared with the utmost consummation of the wheat field. How could he have forgotten the flying fox?