The Dead Church

While listening to Dr David Jeremiah over the last week I heard him reference a painting by Vincent Van Gogh one of my favorite artists.  Later on that day I overheard some associates at work discussing this same piece in reference to a Dr. Who (which is apparently epic) episode.  So in curiosity, and because I could not recall it immediately, I looked up the painting that was referenced and this is what I found.
If you are not familiar Van Gogh’s paintings are considered by many to be the epitome of Impressionism. 
I ran across this painting by Van Gogh today, and was not only struck by its beauty, but sensed something more in the symbolism of its colors and form, so I decided to do a little research.  Here’s what I found out:

Toward the end of his life, Vincent van Gogh succumbed to his mental illness, cut off his own ear after a fight with friend, and in May 1889 committed himself to a mental hospital in Saint Remy.

In the last 10 weeks of his life, while in the care of the doctor, he created over 100 pieces including The Church at Auvers (pictured), a scene from his youth created out of memory.

The foreground seems to be in daylight, whereas the church itself and the sky seem to be in shadow, nearly a night scene. The church’s form is distorted adding a feel of gloom to the scene. A church painted in this manner may reflect van Gogh’s feeling about the church and religion after his failed studies as a preacher and missionary.

One other site explains it this way:

Rather than the church looking like a place of refuge and solace, Vincent has shown it as a place of impending doom and gloom.

Early in his life, Van Gogh aspired to be a pastor and missionary.  However, he failed miserably at both callings and, even though there is no specific documentation about his spiritual crisis, it’s pretty safe to bet that he got turned off from religion because of his inability to “meet the expectations.”  Ironically, van Gogh committed suicide shortly after he painted this impression and The [actual] Church at Auvers refused to host Vincent’s funeral because he had killed himself.  His service took place across the river at Mery-sur-Oise the next day.

This is a sad story, and comes to life through this man’s paintings.  His life circumstance certainly colored his view of this grand edifice and I think it serves as a message to the church that needs to be heard today. A few things I notice about the painting are…

  1. The church dominates the canvas. Literally, there is no way to avoid it.
  2. There are two paths leading around the church – both happen to lead through the shadow of the church.
  3. Sadly, there is no door into the church.

I’ll leave it to you to generate your own conclusions about the message Van Gogh is sending us from 1890 I definitely have my own.  I’d love to hear what you think…


About Jon Nelson

I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody [Christ Jesus]!

Posted on November 3, 2011, in ...from Jon, Life, Missional, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Interesting account of this painting. Alternatively, there are two paths into the church and so there may be different routes to achieve this end. And while the sky gets darker, that which is immediately above the church is bright. So perhaps despite the shadow there is still hope.

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