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Home > Blog > April 2012 > Empty Chairs

By Edward Pettit

The Vincent Van Gogh exhibition, Van Gogh Up Close, now open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been receiving lots of attention. The exhibition focuses on Van Gogh’s paintings of nature and one can see the vibrancy in color and texture of our everyday world  that the artist illuminates.  Van Gogh also brought this same urgency, this same blazing brilliance to mundane objects like chairs

And one chair that inspired him was an engraving by Luke Fildes of “The Empty Chair” of Charles Dickens.  Fildes had been illustrating Dickens’s last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, when the author died.  As a tribute, Fildes painted a watercolor of Dickens’s work space: the writing desk in his study and the now empty chair, prominently displayed, never to be filled again.  Fildes’s watercolor is on permanent display (along with Dickens’s writing desk) in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

An engraving of Fildes’s “Empty Chair” was published in the journal Graphic (as well as many other magazines).  Van Gogh was an ardent admirer of illustrated journals (including Graphic), especially in their dedication to social realism in art.  Van Gogh greatly admired Fildes’s painting (and may have first seen it in Graphic) and even owned a copy of the engraving.  For Van Gogh, the empty chair symbolized the coming absence of the artist.  He wrote “Empty chairs—there are many of them, there will be even more and sooner or later there will be nothing but empty chairs.”

But for me, this kind of melancholic fatalism doesn’t come across in Van Gogh’s chairs.  His chairs have a pipe, flowers, books, a candle perched on their seats.  These mundane objects are hopeful in a way, placeholders waiting for the eventual return of a sitter.  And maybe that can serve as a blithe reminder for Fildes’s mournful chair.  Maybe the Empty Chair is welcoming, inviting us to have a seat in Dickens’s imagination and enjoy the works he created while seated there. 

Join us all year as we metaphorically sit in Dickens’s chair.

http://libwww.freelibrary.org/calendar/calbydateDickens.cfm

 

Edward Pettit is the Charles Dickens Ambassador for FLP’s Year of Dickens and writes about his adventures in Dickens at http://readingcharlesdickens.com/

Tags: Charles Dickens, Rare Book Department, Year of Dickens, art

Samuel Luke Fildes. The Empty Chair, 1870.
Samuel Luke Fildes. The Empty Chair, 1870.
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Tue, May 01, 2012
First I am electronically challenged. Today, somehow and I don't know how, I stumbled on some posting over 250 or so all kinds of beautiful pictures with profound sayings and the ones I recall were grieving over lost loved ones. These were posted by The Empty Chair. Some how I managed to get out of the postings and can not retrieve them. Can you please help. Thank you for your help and assistance. I am a disabled vetetan and I have in the past Weeks many of my friends are dying. Any help would be greately appreciated.
Bobby - El Paso,, TEXAS
Thu, May 03, 2012
I sent a message to empty chair two days ago about some pictures with sayings on each but I the
BOBBY - El Paso,, TEXAS
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