The Shoes of a Superstar, 1888

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Shoes, 1888, oil on canvas, and detail.

  Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1880. Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

You study the shoe on the left of the frame first. A shoe for the right foot.

Two things catch your eye. You think that this might be really a left foot shoe because of the protuberance in the leather at the head of the metatarsal of the longest toe. 

Then there are the laces which are not fully threaded. A temporary, reassuring disorder in a bit/byte world where disorders can be catastrophic or, at least, disruptive.

 

Your eye wanders to its mate: the real left foot shoe.

And then to the colours of the old leather escaped magically from that shoe to the paving tiles in pronounced vertical lines. 

 

 

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Detail of Shoes, 1888, oil on canvas.  Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1880. Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

Your eyes move to the luscious salmon pink in the extreme right hand corner of the painting. 

For a moment you think that there are invisible feet moving these shoes out of the picture frame down those firm vertical stripes and towards that salmon pink.  

 

 

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Detail of Shoes, 1888, oil on canvas.  Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1880. Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

But, of course, it is your eyes that are moving.

 

You aren’t willing to leave the picture.

You pick up the pale salmon pink halo around these shoes and take another tour.

You would like to linger but this is a painting – a small one – in front of which people gather, once they have noticed that it is there between the large door frame and the corner of a room.  And that it is a van Gogh.

 

You have had your turn at the altar and you move away.

 

 

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Shoes, 1888, oil on canvas.  Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1880. Dutch.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

A small painting, a van Gogh, in a large room full of large, overwhelming paintings, and gorgeous, of several French Impressionists.

Not part of our imaginable lives. 

 

Unlike these workaday shoes with whose creator we would like to identify, sympathize as though he was not himself a genius of the first water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Shoes of a Superstar, 1888

  1. Another gem. I love these humble shoes and the affection conveyed towards them in the painting.
    Susannah

    1. I think of 1888 and how this would not have fitted into the grand tradition of European painting up to that time. And how so many more of us are included in the world of this painting and all painting as a consequence of the depiction of this pair of shoes!

  2. The shoe on the right of the canvas looks like a normal foot shape but the one on the left looks kind of warped. Maybe the person that wore them has a deformed foot but still managed to wear out the shoes. Just a guess.

    1. I think these ‘abormalities’ is what catches your eye and in 1888 this is not what seems to have been being portrayed perhaps. Sarah

      1. Yeah, I think the shoe on the left looks like a larger size too, which would make sense if the wearer had a club foot. I knew a guy who was born with a club foot and it was surgically corrected so he could walk but he had to buy 2 sizes of shoes for each pair and the bad foot had an unusually shaped arch. That said, I can’t be sure because I can’t ask Van Gogh and I never read any explanation from him.

      2. The image is odd. You are left with questions. When you look at this painting, you are aware how unlike it is to the others all around it of his peers, the Impressionists. It is so odd and interesting!

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