Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vincent at art school

Had fun today working with one of my favorite scenes in the book: Van Gogh trying to take a painting class with Fernand Cormon (that's him on the right), a leading academic painter of the day and director of a well known Paris school for the fine arts. Though he did not study with Cormon that long he met a number of notable young talents there, some of whom became lifelong friends and important Neoimpressionists. Some people he met were Emile Bernard (pictured on the left), Louis Anquetin, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and John Peter Russell. My scene includes people who we know were students of Cormon and others who are completely imaginary. The group leads a revolt against Cormon and his rather backward aesthetic rules. Something like this did actually happen, with Bernard being one of the rabblerousers. It led to Cormon closing his school for a time.

It was nice to break out of Vincent's mind and show him interacting with fellow painters. He actually had a habit of making friends and associates in all the different places he lived. He wasn't simply an isolated man, despite his mad genius reputation. But even his friends regarded him as slightly peculiar and occasionally trying. At the same time they could also feel great loyalty toward, and love for, him. My worry for today is that in trying to fit Vincent's whole life into one novel I am necessarily sacrificing parts of that life, one being his ability to make friends and professional associates. (He did not seem shy about meeting other artists.) I do show his friendship with Anthon Van Rappard. I also will develop his friendships with Bernard and Signac and Gauguin. But I'm coming out of the Nuenen section in which he was more isolated than in other parts of his life, and out of the Antwerp section in which I've mostly highlighted his epistolary argument with Theo over whether or not he should move to Paris. Not a lot about friends in those parts, even if in real life he did have some. I don't want this book to become too interior even recognizing the profoundly interior nature of Van Gogh and of painting itself. As with any novel, stuff has to happen. And then more stuff. Basic rule.


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