GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)

Still-Life with Open Bible

October 1885, Nuenen
Oil on canvas, 65 x 78 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Catalogue numbers: F 117, JH 946.

In the autumn of 1885 van Gogh painted the Still-Life with Open Bible in which he juxtaposed his own preferences and ideas with those of his father who was the Minister of the small Reformed congregation in Nuenen, and who had difficulties understanding his son's life-style and the choices van Gogh made as a painter.

The painting is dominated by the Bible, a fine and huge edition, sober, melancholy, leather-bound, pathetic. Beside it is an extinguished candle, a traditional prop in any memento mori picture; this symbol of transience and death is sufficient to link the picture to the death of van Gogh's father. In the foreground, modest yet insistent too, is a well-thumbed yellow copy of Zola's novel La joie de vivre. The metaphoric polarity implied by the juxtaposition of this book with the Bible is plain: the Bible was the father's source of authority, while the novel represented a belief that there are other things in modern life besides wisdom that has been handed down through thousands of years.