The Art of Travel

Vincent van Gogh Character Analysis

A 19th century Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who remains one of the most influential artists in Western art. He lived the last three years of his life in Arles, in French Provence, where he produced the majority of his most famous work—about 200 paintings and 100 drawings—during just 15 months. After a series of eye-opening encounters with the work of writers and other painters, van Gogh became convinced that he could portray the South of France in a way that no previous artist had before, and, accordingly, teach people to see the region in an entirely new light. Although van Gogh abandoned the classical ideal that painting should “render on canvas an accurate version of the visual world,” Alain de Botton does not see this shift as a rejection of artistic realism but rather as a new, innovative form of it, one that foregrounded the colors and motion of Provence’s landscape—which van Gogh took as its true essence—rather than its proportions and lines. A series of plaques in and around Arles memorialize van Gogh’s life and work, and in his seventh essay de Botton follows this “van Gogh trail” on a quest to see Provence’s beauty, which was previously hidden from him.

Vincent van Gogh Quotes in The Art of Travel

The The Art of Travel quotes below are all either spoken by Vincent van Gogh or refer to Vincent van Gogh. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Familiar and the Foreign Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Art of Travel published in 2002.
Chapter 7 Quotes

Because we find places to be beautiful as immediately and apparently spontaneously as we find snow to be cold or sugar sweet, it is hard to imagine that there is anything we might do to alter or expand our attractions. It seems that matters have been decided for us by qualities inherent in the places themselves or by hardwiring in our psyches, and that we would therefore be as helpless to modify our sense of the places we find beautiful as we would our preference for the ice creams we find appetizing.

Yet aesthetic tastes may be less rigid than this analogy suggests. We overlook certain places because nothing has ever prompted us to conceive of them as being worthy of appreciation, or because some unfortunate but random association has turned us against them.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Art of Travel quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

It was for van Gogh the mark of every great painter to enable viewers to see certain aspects of the world more clearly.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

‘Completely true to nature!’—what a lie:
How could nature ever be constrained into a picture?
The smallest bit of nature is infinite!
And so he paints what he likes about it.
And what does he like? He likes what he can paint!

Nietzsche 188

Related Characters: Friedrich Nietzsche (speaker), Alain de Botton , Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

A few years after van Gogh’s stay in Provence, Oscar Wilde remarked that there had been no fog in London before Whistler painted it. Surely, too, there were fewer cypresses in Provence before van Gogh painted them.

Related Characters: Alain de Botton (speaker), Vincent van Gogh
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Art of Travel LitChart as a printable PDF.
The art of travel.pdf.medium

Vincent van Gogh Character Timeline in The Art of Travel

The timeline below shows where the character Vincent van Gogh appears in The Art of Travel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7: On Eye-Opening Art
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
In 1888, Vincent van Gogh came to Provence at age 34, early in his painting career, after he had failed... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
Van Gogh ’s professed motivations for moving to Arles were that he wanted to paint and help... (full context)
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
But van Gogh also thought that previous artists “completely missed the essentials” in Southern France: Arles’s “middle-aged middle-class... (full context)
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
In the farmhouse, de Botton reads a book on van Gogh because he cannot fall asleep and then, the next morning, anxiously eats three pains au... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
...which stem from special climactic features that leave the skies cloudless and the vegetation lush. Van Gogh picked up on Provence’s rich primary colors, but earlier painters did not, so he broke... (full context)
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
...tourist office is unassuming and conventional, offering the usual maps and pamphlets, but it emphasizes van Gogh and especially the “van Gogh trail” built 100 years after the painter’s death, which memorializes... (full context)
The Familiar and the Foreign Theme Icon
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
According to the tour guide, in May 1888, three months after he arrived in Arles, van Gogh moved from his hotel to a building called the “Yellow House” and insisted that the... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
Next, the tour goes to fields where van Gogh used to paint, and the group compares the scenery to his work. One Australian woman... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
...in the earlier quote from this chapter—art can never capture the entirety of reality. For van Gogh , capturing the salient part of reality actually meant distorting and omitting other parts of... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
Indeed, as van Gogh wrote to his brother, he decided to “use colour more arbitrarily, in order to express... (full context)
Art, Travel, and the Search for Happiness Theme Icon
The Receptive Self Theme Icon
...de Botton, like most of the people on the walk, finds himself newly enthusiastic about van Gogh and Provence’s landscape, he also thinks of a distressing quote from Pascal: “how vain painting... (full context)