80 Famous People – Vincent van Gogh

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Vincent van Gogh is well-known as an impressionist painter, as well as “that guy that cut off his ear to give to a girlfriend”. Born in Zundert, Netherlands, in 1853, he moved around a lot as an adult, working as a missionary in Belgium, a teacher in England and then as an artist in Paris and parts of southern France. He had a close relationship with his brother, Theo, and attempted to establish friendships with other impressionist painters in Paris. However, his mental illnesses made him emotionally unstable, while probably also driving his artistic senses. He’s reported to have frequented various brothels, and it’s possible that part of the problem was derived from having contracted syphilis. He’d gotten into arguments with Gauguin over art, and at one point attacked the other artist with a razor blade. He then retreated to one of the brothels on Rue du Bout d’Aeles, and used the razor to cut off pieces of his left ear, which he then gave to a prostitute to protect. He later checked himself into an asylum, Saint-Remy, near Arles, for about a year. Reportedly, his mental condition worsened and he’s believed to have shot himself in the chest with a pistol, although the gun was never found. Two doctors attempted to care for him, but they weren’t qualified to do the surgery needed to remove the bullet. Theo was contacted and he rushed to see Vincent. At the time, van Gogh was in good spirits, but infection from the untreated wound kicked in a few hours later, and he died about 29 hours after pulling the trigger.

Theo set up a gallery to display and sell Vincent’s works, but there was only 1 sale while he was alive. A few months later, Theo died from the effects of syphilis. Theo’s widow, Johanna, published Vincent’s collected letters, and that eventually raised awareness of van Gogh as an artist and his popularity increased from that point. Later, both brothers’ remains were exhumed and relocated to be next to each other in Auvers-sur-Oise.

The intro manga has Youichi and Daichi looking at a poorly-drawn flier advertising an upcoming school dodgeball game. Youichi wants to win this time, but first he’s compelled to do something about the flier. He notices that Utako is wearing a pin with sunflowers, and she states that it’s a souvenir from her father’s business trip to France, inspired by van Gogh’s paintings. Youichi decides to use the yellow pull tabs from small bottles of milk to create a sunflower-like banner for his supporters to wave during the game. Unfortunately, he can’t drink enough milk to get the number of tabs he needs and he falls into despair. Then, Daichi and Merrino step in with the tabs they’d collected, but it’s Utako who’s smart enough to get a kindergarten class to help out in drinking all the milk. This gives Youichi way too many tabs, and the finished flag weighs several pounds. In the wrap-up, Youichi has made it to the final dodgeball round and it’s just him and one opponent in the last match. Youichi had injured his finger along the way, and he’s afraid he’s going to lose. Suddenly, he sees a yellow petal fluttering by – Mami and Merrino are waving the flag so hard that the tabs are falling off. The resulting image is like van Gogh’s sunflowers. Thus inspired, he manages to eliminate his opponent and win the tournament. The story ends with a janitor forcing the gang to pick up all the loose tabs from the floor of the gym.

Kazuasa Sumita (Flower Claw, Kamigariki, Witchblade) is the featured artist on the main manga. He’s done a very good job at capturing both Vincent’s likeness, and the spirit of his paintings. This volume is one of the most realistically-presented manga in the series so far. But, the story itself is simplified and reworked to appeal to a younger audience. There’s no mention of the brothels or sexually-related diseases, and Vincent is not shown attacking Gauguin with a knife. Instead, the focus is on Vincent and Theo’s brotherly bonds, and the paintings created at certain time points.

The story starts with Theo entering Vincent’s room in the “yellow house” in Arles, as his older brother lies in bed, dying. There’s a close-up of a pistol, implying that it’s in the room with them. Vincent says that he can’t take this world’s pain anymore, and he dies as Theo shouts out his name. There’s a flashbask to when the two were boys, and Vincent had been punished by his father. He feels alone in the world, and Theo promises to protect him. The scene shifts to when they were both young men and Vincent has failed to hold down another job. Theo is trying to understand Vincent’s artistic path, and gets yelled at for not getting what Vincent sees. Vincent goes outside to paint some landscapes, and finally produces “The Potato Eaters”. He sees some impressionist works at a museum and falls in with artists like Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He meets Gauguin and, moves into the Yellow House in Arles. But, Gauguin berates him for not understanding what an artist’s true function is and tells him to stop painting. In despair, van Gogh cuts off part of his ear and then checks into Saint-Remy. This is followed by a change in his artstyle and the production of “Starry Night”. He continues to exchange letters with Theo, and as a show of support, Johanna suggests that they name their new baby “Vincent”. van Gogh then moves in with his brother, but he hears Johanna arguing with her husband over the additional burden on their finances, since Theo is unable to sell any of his brother’s works. He finishes “Crows Flying over a Wheat Field”, and then supposedly shoots himself to stop causing problems for Theo. The scene returns back to Vincent’s death bed, and the story ends with Vincent praying that Theo could see the beautiful world of nature that he sees.

(From the last 2 pages of the textbook section.)

The textbook section describes Vincent’s upbringing and time spent wandering around western Europe and England before settling down in France. There is some discussion of his interactions with other impressionist painters, and the argument and fight with Gauguin. There are sidebars on Theo and Johanna, and photos of many of his paintings. Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints, were making their way to Europe at this time, and van Gogh avidly collected them. He included several in his later paintings, and “Almond Blossoms” (1890) was heavily influenced by ukiyo-e. The last 2 pages talk about 4 of his paintings and “reveal their secrets”. In one self-portrait, he’s shown as being left-handed, but that’s because he was using a mirror and the image was flipped left-for-right. There are two versions of “Vincent’s Room” (1889), and the big differences between the two are explained as their having been made for two different audiences. And, there’s a comparison of Vincent’s “Sun and Sower” (1888) with Millet’s “The Sower” (1850). The magazine wraps up with the 2 postcards.

Overall, the artwork is really good in this issue, but the story contains several obvious omissions and alternations. The most glaring are Vincent’s frequenting brothels, giving his ear to a prostitute, and the changing of his last words. Theo reported them as “The sadness will last forever”, while the mook gives it as “I can’t take this world’s pain anymore”. So, if you want to see van Gogh’s paintings, this magazine is recommended. If you want an accurate biography, go to the library.

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