Commentary by Hovak Najarian
The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Oil on Canvas, 1890, Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
In response to a lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” Christ told a parable about a man who was traveling and beset by robbers. He was left lying by the roadside, stripped, beaten, and half dead. A priest saw him and passed by on the other side. A Levite did the same. A Samaritan, however, stopped and gave him aid. He lifted him onto his “beast” and took him to an inn and cared for him. The following day the Samaritan paid the innkeeper and asked him to continue caring for the man; saying if more money was needed he would pay when he returned. Christ asked rhetorically which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man, and answered, “The one who showed mercy…” He then said, “Go and do likewise.” This parable was of interest particularly to artists who favored biblical stories of human warmth and compassion; many notable artists, including Rembrandt, painted “The Good Samaritan.” In the early nineteenth century, Eugene Delacroix (del a crwah) the leader of the French Romanticists also painted it and a reproduction of it was published. Shown here is Vincent van Gogh’s interpretation of Delacroix’s painting based on a black and white lithograph copy.
In May of 1890, van Gogh was still a patient at the hospital at Saint-Remy. In warmer weather he would go into the fields to paint but he had been mostly indoors throughout the winter months. Books were comforting to him; in them he could study the paintings of the artists he admired. While remaining indoors, he began using reproductions as source material for his own paintings and he had empathy particularly with the subject of Delacroix’s “The Good Samaritan.” Van Gogh had several bouts of illness during the winter months and he himself was in need of compassion. The cause of his illness has not been determined with certainty even today.
When painting the “The Good Samaritan” van Gogh was working from a copy made by Jules Laurens. The lithograph produced a reversed image of the painting and because van Gogh’s composition followed the lithograph, it too was in reverse. The interpretations of the paintings made by van Gogh at this time were not intended to be copies; instead, he painted subjects in the colors he believed would be appropriate. The reproductions in books were used as source material and were modified in much the same way a musician changes the orchestration or makes variations on another composer’s theme.
A few weeks after painting, “The Good Samaritan,” van Gogh boarded a train to Paris. After visiting his brother and his wife, and his recently born nephew, he settled in nearby Auvers-sur-Oise and was under the care of Dr. Gachet. The auditory and hallucinatory attacks from his illness, however, became more frequent and van Gogh determined it would be for the good of all if he ended his life. He shot himself in the chest and died. His brother, Theo, went into a physical and emotional decline and died six months later.
Hovak Najarian © 2013