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Walker Evans and Vincent van Gogh Shoes

. 2 min read

While looking for more work by Walker Evans I came across this photograph of Floyd Burroughs' boots. It reminded of Vincent van Gogh's Schoenen/Shoes (1886).

Walker Evans was born in 1903 into an affluent family in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to Williams College, a liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to study French literature but dropped out after a year. In 1926 he spent a year in Paris, where he took classes at the Sorbonne and hung out with writers and artists. I am therefore pretty sure Walker Evans was familiar with Vincent van Gogh's painting. He may have seen it at an exhibition or in a catalogue. Evans returned to New York to become a writer, but eventually ended up becoming a photographer.

Vincent van Gogh's Shoes are probably the most famous shoes in philosophy and art history. Martin Heidegger saw the painting at an exhibition in Amsterdam in 1930 and would refer to it in a key passage in The Origin of the Work of Art (1935). Heidegger referred to the shoes as those of a peasant woman. In The Still Life as a Personal Object (1968), the art historian Meyer Schapiro took issue with Heidegger's description, arguing that the shoes are not those of a peasant woman, but instead belonged to Van Gogh himself. Both Heidegger's and Schapiro's appropriation of Vincent van Gogh's shoes form the pivot for Jacques Derrida's meticulous reading of Heidegger in his essay Restitutions de la vérité en pointure (Restitutions of the Truth in Pointing) (1978), which itself has become the topic of several essays.

The Origin of the Work of Art remains, or perhaps I should say once was, one of my favourite writings by Martin Heidegger. I should reread it again some time.