Upon My Brother's Death

A fictional account of Theodore Van Gough's thoughts of his brother's death.

I find I meet my brother's death with mixed feelings. I have a strong sense of guilt for the relief that comes with his departure. Though I was the younger, I often found myself feeling the elder; forced into the role of responsible carer on more than one occasion. Vincent's suicide may have been caused by my own, perhaps cruel, words upon our last meeting at my home in Paris.

Having now a family of my own to support, my wife and newborn son, I was no longer in the position I once was to support my brother. I began supporting him many years ago, only a little each week to keep him going; it was all money I could afford to lose, and in return I did get paintings of sorts.

I was in the unique position to watch my brother's artistic development over the years, and the change was startling. His earlier pictures were plain, grey, and focused completely on what was seen. He tried to capture the suffering of the lower classes with such vivacity; the contours of the face, the tautness of the hands was so focused and realistic. Over time he changed to colourful landscapes, and such colours they were; bright, dark, not overly detailed but filled with an absence; a loneliness that I fear my brother often felt himself.

He was alone too long, far too long for any sane man, but even when he was with people it is fair to say he wasn't truly with them. I have experienced life with Vincent myself. To start with he was rather cheery with the new surroundings of Paris, the attractions and people. He went back into education, to further his knowledge of art. He also made a few friends, though contact between all was minimal; my brother hated crowds. Over time I noticed a growing discontentment, an unrest, a depression, a steady downward spiral that made him rather difficult to live with.

During the latter part our time living together, I confess, I found myself frustrated in his presence. He was so gifted, talented, and at times so full of joy and enthusiasm, but as time went on he spent more and more time immersed in absinth and depression. My frustrations got the better of me until one night we had a rather heated row, and he left for the country.

The cycle began again; he was content for a while, and sent such paintings, some of his early colourful country ones. He told me of his little yellow cottage and the life he had with such fondness at first, but then the loneliness began to close in again. I hear he even threatened a fellow artist he met here in France, and shortly after he cut off part of his ear. This was the final straw, so to speak. He ended up in confinement and, shortly after, sectioned in a mental institution.

His letters were miserable at first, so difficult it was for him to come to terms with his condition as, what he termed, a madman. It often came to mind, in the time my brother was sectioned, whether all madness sprang from genius or all genius from madness; regardless my brother, I knew, was both. He still sent me paintings, such wonderful works. His self portraits, both old and new, were creative and became more and more filled with irresistible colour.

As with most things, time brought acceptance. He accepted his condition, for the most part, and moved to a comfortable institution, where he could paint in the grounds to his content under the watchful eye of institute staff. He warned me, however, that he would inevitably feel the same restless depression, which came as no surprise to me. After the pattern repeated so often I fully guessed that he would become restless and depressed; there seemed little to do that would ease his restless spirit.

His contentment lasted for a time, as it had before, but as expected there were numerous incidents and he asked to be moved at once to another place. The place he chose was closer to me, in a little town near Paris. He wrote often, and got on well with the doctor, though he found they were so similar that he lacked confidence in the physician's ability. I remember his words; 'If the blind lead the blind they will both fall in the ditch.'

So diverted was my attention by my new found wife and child at this time, that I failed to notice the downward spiral my brother had entered. Looking back I can see clearly in his letters the signs of his discontentment; the way he would talk less and less of nights spent with his physician friend and the man's daughter, whom he often painted before. He would reflect more on loneliness; a clear sign that I'd missed, or perhaps neglected to notice.

His visit came not long after, and he barely stayed the day. Perhaps I could have been more delicate in my speech; however the fact that I could no longer afford to keep him financially could not be changed. I had my own responsibilities. I didn't mean to push my brother away; I would gladly have had him at my table; I just couldn't afford to fund both him and my family anymore.

Four days after he last wrote I received the news that he had shot himself and lay at death's door. I hurried to his side of course, and would have given him what for if it would have done any good, but he said he preferred to go as he was. Half an hour after those words left his lips he had his way. Two days he had lain there waiting for death, and then he was gone.

He was a burden at times, but always, always, my dear older brother. He was both genius and madman, eccentric and depressive, traveller and missionary, and of course, above all, an artist.

A man like him will not be seen in our time again.

Theodore Van Gogh.

The End

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