Les Alpilles by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh Part II

More Fun Facts You Should Know

Self Portrait Vincent van Gogh

Picking up from where we left off with the previous post about Vincent van Gogh Five Things to Know Part 1.  Here are a few more facts that if you know you can hold a good conversation about the artist.  These facts give some great insight into the art that he produced.  These six points discuss the following: major influences, the artist colony he tried to create, his mental illness and the asylum stays, and his very last painting.  He was a complex man that was very sensitive to his surroundings.  

1. The Novel Germinal by Zola about the coal-mining region in France and other sociological criticism influenced the artist. Here is an example, "the Potato Eaters.”

Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh

The Potato Eaters did not find any kind of success or notoriety until after van Gogh’s death, but the early painting fused van Gogh’s reading and research with his fascination with peasant life. The influence of Germinal by Zola — a masterpiece in its own right that explored the hardships and harsh realities of a coalminers’ strike in France— can be traced. The figures’ gnarled, bony hands, distorted facial features, and bleak light that illuminates the table all point to the difficulties and inequalities of rural 19th-century France. While this work is a far cry from the color palettes van Gogh’s later most famous works, it shows how thoughtful, reflective, and empathetic van Gogh was and shares the same emotional complexities of his portraiture. While all of his artwork displays a rare understanding of human emotion and psyche, it possesses such depth because of its social and political awareness, research, and understanding. 

2. Major Influences

Vincent van Gogh lJapanese Block Style
La Courtesan

Vincent van Gogh’s artistic influences can be traced through evolution and shifts in his work. They were just as diverse and varied as van Gogh’s work. Van Gogh emulated the emotional realness, sensitivity to psychology, and extreme light sources from Dutch masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Vincent van Gogh even traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, to study at the Antwerp Academy of Art and further expand his understanding of the Dutch painting tradition between 1885-1886. Though van Gogh found some notoriety among the artists, he was critical of the school’s artistic approach. His criticism sparked disputes that led to his departure.

Vincent van Gogh left the Netherlands and joined his brother, Theo, in Paris in 1886. It was there that van Gogh met the Impressionists and began to adapt his painting style to embrace the lightness and more expansive, colorful palettes of the movement. He was also influenced by Japanese prints and actively let his study of the Japanese artistic tradition bleed into his work alongside other European styles. In Paris between the spring of 1886 and February 1888, under Impressionist influences, he developed his idiom and unique style of brushwork. The muted tones of early paintings disappeared, only to be replaced by more color, less traditional formal choices, and lighter tonalities. Paris also pushed van Gogh to experiment with Pointillism techniques in his works (a method made famous by Seurat).

His famous work, The Bedroom, is a prime example of how Japanese prints influenced van Gogh’s oil painting. There are endless complexities to break down, but the primary one how van Gogh flattened the perspective to resemble Japanese printmaking more closely. 

The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh
The Bedroom

3. He tried to create an artist colony

The Yellow House by Vincent Van Gogh
The Yellow House The Street
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
Sunflowers

After a couple of years in Paris, the bustling European capital of the 19th-century art world, Vincent tired of city life and retreated to Arles in the south of France. He immediately became enthralled with the serenity and bright colors of the natural landscape and enthusiastically broached the idea of creating an artist colony with his devoted brother, Theo. Van Gogh won his brother’s support and rented four rooms in the so-called “Yellow House.” In van Gogh’s letters to his brother, he wrote about how an artist community could help him stave off isolation and feelings of loneliness. Indeed, whether intentional or not, this was a surefire attempt at alleviating his depression and mental illnesses. Paul Gauguin, one of van Gogh’s famous contemporaries, came to stay at the Yellow House for a brief period. It was around then that van Gogh produced the sunflower paintings as a gift for the first artist in his new community. The two painters, however, saw life and art very differently. Tensions rose between the two until it culminated in van Gogh slicing his ear off, at which point the Yellow House shut down. Gauguin returned to Paris while van Gogh checked into an asylum. Van Gogh lost his artist colony very hard, and his mental illness became more pronounced.

 

4. He was allowed to worked while in asylums as he battled mental illness

Vincent Van Gogh Asylum Painting
Ward in the Hospital in Arles
The Olive Orchard by Vincent Van Gogh
The Olive Orchard

Vincent van Gogh was plagued with mental illnesses that kept him in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums for most of his adult life. Despite the turmoil and difficulty in his breakdowns, van Gogh’s time in Saint Paul Asylum had a meaningful impact on his work and approach. It was there that van Gogh studied and reinterpreted Millet’s depictions of peasants and rural life with meticulous and detailed accuracy. Vincent van Gogh enjoyed a secondary room as an art studio where he drew and painted extensively (except for the brief time when he was driven to eat the oil paint). Van Gogh also enjoyed painting in the gardens outside — another prime example of the influence nature had on him. He also found friendship with one of his homeopathic doctors, Dr. Gachet, an amateur painter. Van Gogh created one of his most revered portraits of Dr. Gachet, and the two bonded deeply over their love of art. Equally critical during these periods was the time and space van Gogh needed to experiment with new styles and production methods. After leaving the asylum, his paintings took on a new, more lyrical quality characterized by broader, more fluid brushwork.

 

5. While in Arles, France he created some of his most famous works: The Starry Night, Garden of the Asylum, Cypresses, Olive Trees, and Les Alpilles.

During his 12 month stint at an asylum in Arles, van Gogh was just as prolific as he was in other locations. In addition to completing some complex and enlightening self-portraits and the work that arose from his friendship with Dr. Gachet, van Gogh delved back into his love of landscape painting. As van Gogh battled his demons— including suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and depression — he enjoyed vast amounts of time drawing, painting, and exploring natural forms. Indeed, it was in the asylum that he found inspiration and time to paint The Starry Night. It was also at this time when he painted the swirling vegetation and skies of Cypresses and Olive Trees. Vincent van Gogh’s work evolved into its most well-known and original iteration in Arles. While it might seem strange that some of the most magnificent artwork the world has ever known was created in the corner of a mental asylum, perhaps this is the very root of its success. Van Gogh wrote extensively to his brother while at Arles and described with a passion and zeal how profoundly nature and environment impacted him. These works are laden with emotion and complexity that reflects how complicated, and spiritual van Gogh was himself. His most famous works emerged during this time because van Gogh painted what he felt— not just what he saw.  

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night
Cyprusses by Vincent Van Gogh
Cyprusses
Les Alpilles by Vincent van Gogh
Les Alpilles

6. His Last Painting

True to his feverish and frenzied creation of art, Vincent van Gogh produced hundreds of paintings in the last three years of his life, from 1888 to 1890. Many of these works are now considered some of the greatest Dutch masterpieces ever made. After such tumult, personal strife, and study, van Gogh possessed the technical prowess of a master painter and the emotional depth of a man who has lived a thousand lives. The work above, entitled Wheat Field with Crows, was painted in the final weeks of van Gogh’s life. The stormy skies, circling crows, and long winding paths evoke the feelings of isolation, despair, and death that van Gogh was surely battling at the time. The sense of light and vibrant color palette are among the technical elements of the work that are so highly praised. Still, the painting is also rife with spiritual and religious symbolism connected to van Gogh’s early religious ministries. The crows recall death and resurrection, while the wheat is known as the divine provision for people of God in the Christian tradition. Van Gogh’s landscapes aligned more with his self-portraiture and portraiture work, which have a unique ability to evoke emotion and connect with the human psyche. 

Wheatfield with Crows Vincent van Gogh
Wheatfield with Crows
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Diane

Diane is the producer of Street Art Museum Tours. Both of her parents are artists and introduced her to the arts at a young age. Her mission is to reach out to local and far away communities to show them that art museums can be both entertaining and informative in a way that both the common person and the savvy art enthusiasts can both enjoy. She strives for all tours to include elements of history, art history, and cultural elements. She is a student of art history. Her favorite courses are from Modern Art.
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