There are those headlines that trumpet news while others hold false notes. A celebrated screamer ran in Vancouver's Herald on April 15, 1912, affirming “Titanic Sinks: No Lives Lost.” Was Van Gogh's death a suicide or murder?

Granted, no one died in the Guardian's May 9 story headlined “Van Gogh gushing letter to Art critic goes on show in Amsterdam,” but the description doesn't fit. The newspaper counted the six words out of 1,264 that called the critic's review “a work of art in itself.” It should be noted that the critic –Gabriel Albert Aurier– was a well-known poet.

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Calling his praise artful is fitting, not gushing,

Pushing the point

Daniel Boffey, the Guardian's Brussels bureau chief, seemed intent on keeping alive Van Gogh's reputation as emotionally disturbed by starting out his article saying that the painter wrote to the critic from a mental institution. If there were any gushing, it was in Aurier's praise for Van Gogh. In his review in the modern art magazine Mercure de France titled “Les Insoles: Vincent van Gogh,” Aurier wrote that the painter was the only one “who perceives the coloration of things with gem-like quality.”

Letter of appreciation

While Van Gogh said he appreciated the critic's praise, he made clear it was misplaced and explained why it should have gone to Adolphe Monticelli, whose bright palette inspired him.

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Rather than gushing, then, Van Gogh's letter demonstrated that he was a careful thinker, certainly more careful than the Guardian's Brussel's bureau chief. “Thank you very much for your article in the Mercure de France, which greatly surprised me,” the painter wrote. “I like it very mulch as a work of art in itself, I feel that you create colors with your words...Hover, I feel ill at ease when I reflect that what you say should be applied to others rather than to me.”

He also gave credit to another painter for the work for which Aurier praised him, despite the brief time spent with him.

“I ow a great deal to Paul Gauguin, with whom I worked for a few months in Arles.”

Telling it like it isn't

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam also could take lessons from the painter on careful thinking. The museum, like Boffey, seems set on keeping the image of the painter as a crazy person, as seen in its recent show "On the Verge of Insanity.” Anyone with any sense of how hard it is to get any work done when disturbed even for a short time should know that given Van Gogh's output, he has been unfairly characterized.

Before his death at age 37, he produced 200 museum-worthy oils and 100 watercolors. Then there's his voluminous letter-writing – some 200 missives to his brother and fellow artists. They were in English, French, and Dutch.

If anyone thinks for a moment that Van Gogh wasn't self-aware, they should check out his 36 self-portraits, each picturing a steely knowing.

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