Dozens of films have explored the life of Vincent van Gogh. Now, for the first time, his story is being told entirely through van-Gogh-style oil paintings and the painter’s death is recounted as a thriller: was it suicide or something more sinister?
Even those not particularly interested painting are likely aware of at least the highlights of the (tragic) biography of Vincent van Gogh. While the 19th century painter only achieved modest fame in avant-garde circles during his lifetime and hardly sold enough of his work to keep body and soul together, posthumously his paintings began and have continued to command astronomical sums.
Incapable of handling money, van Gogh was dependent on the largess of his brother Theo, and suffered from repeated bouts of depression throughout his life. He went through periods of almost frenzied productivity, once completing 187 paintings in the Southern French city of Arles in just 16 months.
In 1888 after a row with Paul Gaugin, another celebrated artist to this day, van Gogh lost most of his left ear in circumstances that have never been entirely clear. Whether the artist grabbed a knife and cut it off himself, or whether Paul Gaugin sliced it off during a fight will probably never be known for sure. His reasons for killing himself two years later are also shrouded in mystery. In July 1890, van Gogh shot himself in the chest and succumbed to his injuries two days later.
His life – or more accurately the circumstances surrounding his death – is now the subject of a unique film from directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchmann. “Loving Vincent” is a completely new type of art film. Filmed “normally” with real actors, every scene was transformed into an oil painting, then filmed again.
Over a total of seven years, the images were not created using image processing software, but rather painted by hand. Hugh remembers that many investors were put off by the concept of elaborate, individually produced paintings. “It wasn’t easy to find the right partners, most film funding specialists were too cautious to risk being part of something so new. Thankfully we found some special and courageous individuals who believed in us, and believed that we could hand-paint 65,000 individual frames on canvas at the size of 103cm by 60cm. We were, without a doubt, coming up with the slowest method of making a feature film ever devised. So I can understand why some people had their doubts, as to whether we could do it.”
“We were, without a doubt, coming up with the slowest method of making a feature film ever devised.”
The story is set in the summer of 1891. One year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, a letter from the artist to Theo suddenly turns up, and young Armand Roulin is tasked with delivering it. Unable to locate van Gogh’s brother, Roulin travels to the sleepy town of Auvers-sur-Oise where the famous painter spent the last few weeks of his life. While searching for the intended recipient of the missive, Armand uncovers a network of lies and contradictions. He is determined to discover the real truth behind the painter’s death.
Among all the recently released animated films made using state-of-the art technology, this film handcrafted over a number of years stands out. Not just because of its unique, artistic approach, but also because it follows up on a fascinating mystery.
“We cannot speak other than by our paintings” – Vincent van Gogh