Vincent, starry starry night…in Isleworth

Vincent’s time in England was coming to an end. But he was still walking across London – walking and looking. He brought a painter’s loving eye to the sights he beheld; sights others might not have noticed.

I remember Acton Green. It was surprisingly muddy, but was a beautiful sight when it began to grow dark and the mist rose and one saw the light of a small church in the middle of the green. And to the left were railway tracks on a rather high embankment and at that moment the train came, and that was a beautiful sight, the red glow of the locomotive, and the rows of lights inside the carriages in the twilight. To our right, a few horses were grazing in a meadow surrounded by a hedge of hawthorn and blackberry bushes.’

He never stopped looking. Even in Hyde Park.

‘Ah, Hyde Park at 6.30 in the morning! The mist was lying on the grass and the leaves were falling from the trees, and in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street lamps that had not yet been out; and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament…and the sun rose red in the morning mist.’

Vincent loved walking. But having received his first pay packet from Mr Jones, he travelled on the underground occasionally.  But mainly he walked. He walked for a final visit to his friend Harry Gladwell, who he’d known in Paris.

‘I remember visiting him when he was home for a few days. Something very sad happened to his family. His sister, a girl full of life aged 17, with dark eyes and hair, fell from her horse while riding at Blackheath. She was unconscious when they picked her up and died five hours later without regaining consciousness.’

The tragedy bit hard into Vincent.

‘I went there as soon as I heard what had happened. It was a long walk to Lewisham, from one end of London to another. On my arrival, they had all just come back from the funeral. It was a real house of mourning and did me good to be there. I had feelings of embarrassment and shame at seeing the deep, estimable grief; for these people were estimable.’

He talked with Harry for a long time on the station, walking up and down the platform, before travelling home.

‘Those moments before parting, we’ll probably never forget. We knew each other so well. His work was my work, his life was my life and it was given to me to see so deeply into their family affairs because I loved them. Not so much because I knew the particulars of their family affairs; but I felt the tone and feeling of their being and life.’

Before leaving England, he remembers a view from his home in Isleworth.

‘I remember looking out of my windows one night, onto the roofs of the houses one sees from there; and the tops of the London elms, dark against the night sky. Above those roofs, one single star; but a nice big friendly one.’

He did like a starry night.

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