A Painful Song of Love (Van Gogh’s Last Day)

Seven paintings by Matteo Massagrande for a dramatic monologue by Marco Goldin

Vicenza, Basilica Palladiana
7 October 2017 - 8 April 2018

The show is on display in the last gallery of the exhibition path and it is included in the Van Gogh. Tra il grano e il cielo admission ticket.

Letter to Marco

Matteo Massagrande

Dear Marco, In your text that I received that morning, one phrase immediately convinced me to accept your proposal to paint some works after reading A Painful Song of Love: “Yet his spirit had brushed against mine, a slight touch, maybe accidental, maybe not.” I believe these things happen all the time.
Something similar happened to me. I had been working in my Hungarian studio for a few weeks in July, and was in the habit of going for long walks in the countryside. It was harvest time. Harvesting can even change the color of the sky and all the light of the surrounding landscape is affected by its magic. On those days, I used to stop at the edge of a wheat field. It’s not a huge field, in fact I would say it’s almost intimate, just outside the town, and on three sides it is surrounded by trees. Yet, it brought me to a halt for a long time whenever I passed by. I was exploring its strange color, between the copper of the evening sun’s rays and iridescent violet and blue shadows, and Millet’s Gleaners came to mind and inevitably also Van Gogh. Then I went home and found A Painful Song of Love waiting to be read. While I was reading it, I saw the field that I had been looking at for days come into the studio and sit beside me. I even smelled the dust that had been raised during the harvesting ...
(The first art book I was gifted was brought to me from Amsterdam by my brother. It was a small illustrated book on Van Gogh. I was twelve years old. I remember the pictures, such as the girl under a tree, the boots, the night café, and the room with the chair. I often used to accompany my mother to church and so only saw sacred images. I had never imagined that a chair could be the subject of a painting and I suddenly realized it was a beautiful object. Obviously without knowing why, it touched my spirit, that much is certain. It wasn’t love at first sight with Vincent, as was to happen later with Velázquez, Tiepolo, and Mantegna. It only came many years later, and not by looking at his paintings. When I was reading and re-reading his letters to his brother Théo, I understood his painting not only pictorially but also viscerally. Through his words and his drawings, I felt his religious humility and the sense of his mission of love, which was how he gave himself to the world.)
Your Painful Song is a hymn to Love.
Reading line after line, I could see the paintings. Your poem doesn’t describe or analyze paintings, but evokes images. I have often read and re-read A Painful Song of Love, after that first time in Hungary. Sometimes aloud, because a poem read aloud becomes a living thing, like conversing with someone physically present.
The word “painful” ... in recent years we have often talked about pain in art. Not meant as showing blood, flesh, or viscera but in a philosophical and perhaps more intense, deep sense of human feeling, which makes us say “it’s so beautiful it hurts” and then I think of the universe with its stars. Or the opposite, “so painful that it’s sublimated in beauty,” and I think of Grünewald.
What connects the two states (or distinguishes them) is harmony. Harmony is the simplest thing to imagine and the hardest to describe.
Your Painful Song is deeply moving because of the love that Vincent had longed for all his life and it is fascinating because of the intensity with which he ceaselessly pursued it. You have found harmony in your lines of verse and in a form which made it easy to choose subjects from all the many possible ones in your poem. As Attila József said: “There are as many truths as there are loves.” I think readers of A Painful Song of Love will identify with you as they consider Van Gogh: people who experience such beautiful love that it almost makes them ill and those who experience the memory or desire for a love they have still not experienced or maybe never will. Your Painful Song of Love is truth. Thank you, Marco.
Fondest regards,