DEJA VU / The boot, painted often by Van Gogh, is being re-soled by Gilbert & George

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VAN Gogh's first picture of boots was painted in Paris in 1886, when the artist was living in poverty. He wrote: 'I see pictures and drawings in the most squalid little corners. I am irresistibly impelled to study them . . . If poor, one has to suffer many things . . . I have lacked money for paying models else I had given myself entirely to figure painting . . . I am struggling for life and progress in art.' The boot pictures can be seen as sensitive, anthropomorphic self-portraits. As the artist's biographer Frank Elgar wrote: 'Old, worn, gaping and down at heel, (they) tell a story of poverty, wretchedness and weary, endless tramping. They reveal the plight of the man who wore them out so utterly and, through his adversity, the toil and fatigue of the whole world.'

Gilbert and George's Boot (1989) is interpreted in the accompanying exhibition catalogue by Wojciech Markowski: 'In this . . . a picture of a leg presented as part of a human body rather than a shoe, we feel the expression of a deep belief in the orderliness of this world, and even in its subordination to the structure of the human body. Here we have the axis which like a column supports the world and divides it into parts-and which meets another axis, the horizontal axis of the earth . . . it clearly symbolises the domination of activity over passivity.' Or more simply, in the words of George: 'It is very much a love letter. A love letter from us to the viewer'.

Gilbert and George's Boot is at the Tate Gallery, Liverpool to 14 Mar. Van Gogh's Old Boots can be seen at the Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam.

(Photograph omitted)

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