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Art History Honors Artist Booklet Project

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Van Gogh - "Self-Portrait"

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent was born March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands to an upper middle class family. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a minister and his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was an artist. He had 5 siblings, 2 brothers and three sisters. At the age of 15, his family fell on hard economic times and he was forced to leave school and begin work at his uncle's art gallery.  While there he learned a great deal and became fluent in English, French, and German in addition to his native Dutch. When he was twenty he was transfered to the office in London where he immersed himself in British art and culture.  After a meltdown from his landlady's daughter refusing his marriage proposal he was fired for discouraging people from buying certain art and decided to become a minister.  He studied for a year but then failed the entrance exam to theology school for refusing to learn Latin. After spending some time preaching to coal miners and sketching near Belgium, he moved to Brussels where, with financial support from his family, he began to study art with books by Millet and Bargue. In 1886 he moved to France where he was greatly influenced by the art of impressionists like Gaugin, Monet, and Pissaro.  He became fascinated with Japanese art and then moved to Arles in south France to study the light and continue to paint. It is here that he tried to stab Gaugin who he was living with and tried to give his ear to a prostitute. He was in and out of the hospital until the people of Arles signed a petition that he was too dangerous. He continued painting until his death. Vincent's brother died 6 months after, but his wife continued to push van Gogh's art and got 71 of them displayed in a show in Paris. He quickly became famous and hailed as an artistic genius. 

Early Life

Van Gogh - "Miners"

Van Gogh's style is said to be Post-Impressionistic, which is very vague, simply meaning it came after and was influenced by the Impressionistic movement, but was something new. He was greatly influenced by the impressionism from art he saw and artists he met in Paris, but his art was something very different and new. He used thick paint and brush strokes to create intense color, giving his paintings a sense of urgency.  Another reason for his thick application of paint is that he often painted on jute which is a very coarse fabric (he worked almost entirely in oil paints).  He was a man of a lot of emotion and his art shows that.  The interaction of the different hues leaves the painting charged with energy. He studied alongside many other famous artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissaro,  who are two other very important post-impressionists.  During this time they influenced each other greatly. Another influence on his work came from his fascination with Japanese and other eastern arts. Almost every artistic movement since has been influenced by his bold strokes and his use of color. 

Van Gogh - "The Night Cafe


The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, 1888 - The Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Irises, 1889 - The Getty Center, Lost Angeles

Blooming Almond Tree, 1890 - The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888 - The Musée de Orsay

Bedroom in Arles, 1888 - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Potato Eaters, 1885 - The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Starry Night, 1889 - The Museum of Modern Art - New York

This is my favorite of van Gogh's paintings. It shows a Cyprus tree in the foreground with a small town in the bottom right hand. Rolling hills and a night sky filled with stars make up the background. The picture is dominated by shades of blue with some yellows and greens.  It has the same fretful energy to it that many of his paintings do. Everything is swirling and swelling from his broad strokes.  That swelling can be felt looking at it.  What appeals to me is how even though it's just a painting it seems to move. Looking at the sky always makes me think of outer space with all the galaxies in constant motion.

Still Life: Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, 1888 - Neue Pinakothek

This is another one of my favorites. It is simply a vase with twelve sunflowers sitting on a yellow platform in front of a blue background.  Here you can clearly see each of the brush strokes van Gogh takes. It is a clear view of his broad deliberate brush painting style with its bold colors. It is mostly yellow, though that yellow verges on orange in places. Its a bright and sunny piece that makes me feel happy to see it.  To me its like looking up and seeing the bright yellow sun on a light blue clear sky.