Wheat Field with Crows: Painted in July 1890, this work is one of the two debated to be Vincent van Gogh’s final painting. Regardless, this dramatically lonesome landscape would have been one of the last things seen by the painter other than the immediate surroundings of his deathbed.

One hundred and twenty-two years ago today, on July 28th, 1890, in Auvers, France, the outstanding but wholly dismissed artist Vincent van Gogh lay prostrate on the precarious balance between life and death. The day prior he had walked alone into a field and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He would spend the next day lying in bed smoking a pipe before finally, on July 29th, succumbing to an infection in the wound. He was 37 years old and had sold only one painting during his lifetime (Sherwood, 2006). Attended to by his brother Theo, his last words were reported to be, “The sadness will last forever” (Sweetman, 1990).

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Self-Portrait 1889. Paris. Musée d’Orsay.

In memoriam to this brilliant artist, I present to you today an unfinished work by another. Captured on tape by biographer Robert Shelton in a Denver hotel room on March 13, 1966—just three days after the final sessions for Blonde On Blonde—this “sketch” by Bob Dylan would come to acquire several names over the years, given by various bootleggers and fans: “Definitely Van Gogh;” “Positively Van Gogh;” and “Spuriously Seventeen Windows (The Painting By Van Gogh).” After this date, Dylan would go on to complete his European tour in a blur of inspiration and stimulants before entering a reclusive period on July 29, 1966, when he crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, New York. The extents of his injuries from this accident were never fully disclosed, however, Dylan claimed that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. As for why he never returned to this composition—the narrative of which had the potential to develop into something with a grandeur to rival his “Visions of Johanna”—Dylan had told the press at the time: “The songs I don’t publish, I usually do forget…I have to start over all the time. I can’t really keep notes or anything like that” (Heylin, 2009).

Tree Roots: An intense vision cut off sharply, this turbulent tangle of dense paint applied by fevered brushstrokes is the other of the two works disputed to be Van Gogh’s “final painting.”


When I’d ask why the painting was deadly

Nobody could pick up my sign

‘Cept for the cook, she was always friendly

But she’d only ask, “What’s on your mind?”

She’d say that especially when it was raining

I’d say “Oh, I don’t know”

But then she’d press and I’d say, “You see that painting?

Do you think it’s been done by Van Gogh?”

The cook she said call her Maria

She’d always point for the same boy to come forth

Saying, “He trades cattle, it’s his own idea

And he also makes trips to the North

Have you ever seen his naked calf bleed?”

I’d say, “Oh no, why, does it show?”

Then she’d whisper in my ear that he’s a half-breed

And I’d say, “Fine, but can he paint like Van Gogh?”

I can’t remember his name he never gave it

But I always figured he could go home

‘Til when he gave me his card and said, “Save it”

I could see by his eyes he was alone

But it was sad how his four leaf clover

Drawn on his calling card showed

That it was given back to him a-many times over

And it most definitely was not done by Van Gogh.

It was either she or the maid just to please me

Though I sensed she could not understand

And she made a thing out of it by saying, “Go easy

He’s a straight, but he’s a very crooked straight man.”

And I’d say, “Does the girl in the calendar doubt it?

And by the way is it Marilyn Monroe?”

But she’d just get salty and say, “Why you wanna know about it?”

And I’d say, “I was just wondering if she ever sat for Van Gogh.”

[from here the recording becomes too damaged, and is not worth listening to]

It was either her or the straight man who introduced me

To Jeanette, Camilla’s friend

Who later on falsely accused me

Of stealing her locket and pen

When I said “I don’t have the locket”

She said “You steal pictures of everybody’s mother I know”

And I said “There’s no locket

No picture of any mother I would pocket

Unless it’s been done by Van Gogh.”

Camilla’s house stood on the outskirts

How strange to see the chandeliers destroyed…

[tape ends]

Bob Dylan, “Paranoid” Birmingham, England, 1966 by Barry Feinstein.

————–Bobby Calero———————


Heylin, C. (2009). Revolution In The Air: The Songs Of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Sherwood, K. (2006). van Gogh, Vincent (1853–1890). Encyclopedia of Disability. Ed. Gary L. Albrecht. Vol. 4. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from Gale Virtual Reference Library

Sweetman, D. (1990). Van Gogh: His Life and His Art. New York: Crown Publishers.


  1. Stela

    Love this article. Amazing combo! Is it possible that they both have used “the sacre bleu”? Van Gogh in his palette and Dylan in the ink of his fountain pen, being this the reason they’re both so brilliant in their particular talent.


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