During his first summer at the Yellow House, Van Gogh eagerly looked forward to the arrival of fellow artist Paul Gauguin. After a number of delays and excuses, Gauguin finally arrived on October 23, 1888, and Van Gogh’s dream of the Studio of the South was finally underway. For 63 days two of the greatest artists of all time shared their life and their art.
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin met in the fall of 1887 while in Paris, France. The two artists had a shared admiration for each other’s work and tried learning from the other. They offered mutual support and dialogue including a number of letters in which they shared ideas as well as descriptions of their work. However, their relationship also consisted of competition, friction and conflict.
When Gauguin arrived in Arles, Van Gogh showed him his favorite painting sites, and they worked together typically painting the same scene or model while sitting side by side. However, as the weather turned and the artists were forced indoors, they soon discovered their conflicting attitudes toward art which led to heated debates. Van Gogh needed to work quickly in the open air with his subject in front of him. Gauguin, on the other hand, took a slower approach to his art and painted with as much imagination as observation.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, describing the struggles he had with Gauguin’s artist suggestions. Gauguin wrote to a mutual friend, Bernard, that he and Van Gogh did not see eye to eye.
In December of 1888, Gauguin painted a portrait of Van Gogh in which Van Gogh was painting sunflowers. Being December, it was not possible for Van Gogh to be painting sunflowers which lead to a heated debate. Van Gogh said of the painting, “certainly me, but me gone mad.” Van Gogh grew worried that Gauguin would leave. On December 23, 1888, he wrote to his brother Theo,
“I think myself that Gauguin was a little out of sorts with the good town of Arles, the little yellow house where we work, and especially with me. [Gauguin had written to Theo that Vincent and he could not go on living together “in consequence of incompatibility of temper.” The quarrel was made up, and Gauguin wrote another letter, speaking of the first as a bad dream.]
A few short days later, according to Gauguin, Van Gogh confronted him with a razor demanding to know if Gauguin planned to leave Arles. Van Gogh grew even more upset when Gauguin confirmed his plans to leave. Following the confrontation, Gauguin spent the night at a hotel, and Van Gogh mutilated his ear. The next day Gauguin took a train back to Paris, and the two artists never saw each other again.
Their last argument in Arles did not deter Van Gogh’s desire to remain friends with Gauguin. On January 4, 1889, Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin,
“My dear friend Gauguin, I take the opportunity of my first outing from the hospital to write you a couple of words of my profound and sincere friendship.”