Van Gogh’s Undergrowth

Van Gogh Gallery, Undergrowth With Two Figures, Cincinnati Art Museum
Van Gogh Gallery, Undergrowth With Two Figures, Cincinnati Art Museum

I can’t say I’m a big fan of Van Gogh, but his painting titled “Undergrowth With Two Figures” struck me as particularly haunting when I went to see it at the Cincinnati Art Museum a couple weeks ago. There’s something ethereal about the figures, a feeling of loneliness cut off from the world. There is a place you can hike to in a glen near where I live called the Pine Forest that has the same effect: It’s as if the place is wrapped up in it’s own little world. It’s lonely, yet magical at the same time.

While there, I overheard a tour guide telling a group of people that because the painting was done right before Van Gogh died, many people have interpreted the painting as Van Gogh’s longing for companionship, but never getting it and feeling lonely constantly. This makes sense to me because I also got the sense of despair, longing, and loneliness from the painting. The couple are there together in a copse of trees alone, yet even the couple seems ethereal and ghost like as they’re not fully substantial and solid in the painting (they kind of fade down at the bottom).

I love this interpretation because I, too, feel a sense of loneliness at various times of my life, longing for companionship and love. At the same time, the feeling seems kind insubstantial and unreachable. So is the feeling real or just out of your reach? Only you can interpret it from your own experiences.

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