VAN GOGH'S PAINTINGS: Searching Essential Forms and Perspective

Self Portrait Vincent van Gogh
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Imagine the year 1869 in the city of London, when the construction of the Suez Canal was started; imagine in your mind a young man of twenty, walking from 87, Hackford Road, Brixton to 17, Southampton Street. 

This boy would go there in Ms Goupil & Company, an art dealer firm. This boy is burdened with two things: his poverty and his creativity that the whole world was to remember forever. 

That young man was none other than Vincent Van Gogh. He was the man who would change the world of art.

Van Gogh had two cleat-cut desires in his mind when he went to Paris. One was to meet and learn from the master artists living in Paris. Another desire was to sell a couple of paintings. He had succeeded only in fulfilling his first desire.

THE ART:   An artist feels burdened when he or she has to say something untold till the day or reveal something that is still un-revealed. The artist carries a weight of the untold and un-revealed stories roaming within his or her heart and mind. It is not the case that artistic passion is a featherweight phenomenon; instead, it is like an iron block that heavily hammers the artist, instigating him or her to speak out. Van Gogh had revealed his burden of creativity in the recesses of his bordering sanity and mental illness that frequently sent him into asylums.

Once the artist wants to reveal something, the action happens. A musician takes an instrument in hand; the writer takes a pen in hand. The painter is a person dealing with colours takes palette and brush in his or her. Whatever the form of art a person prefers to unburden the self, he or she tries conveying the passion embedded in him or her; the passion that is like a cloud, full of water; the passion that waits to become a message for the others. 

While letting the very passion goes out, an artist feels very strangely in a sense. He or she experiences something like current passing through the being and the very flow of the passion makes the artist himself or herself swept out from the scene. That stage of experiencing made Van Gogh such a huge personality in the world of art.

Here the master artist Van Gogh uses his well-established technique of presenting the strain of the emotion. And for that the painter had used short strokes of brushes, depicting the tension the artist was feeling inside of him and then releasing the same through the skill of the brush. 

Self Portrait Vincent van Gogh
[Sold at $71.5 Million at Christie,
New York in 1998Sothbie]

THE ARTIST: In this self-portrait given above, Vincent Van Gogh has put the focal point of the painting on his beard. Strangely enough, he had used red for the beard, creating the full-blown tension in the middle of the frame. 

Thereafter the tones of the colours subdue for tense to somewhat released and finally, the tension looks ending in the corners of the frame where the colours are in their palest hue.

However, his self Portrait given here is without the beard. It was sold for $71.5 Million in the year 1998, at Christie, New York. If the price is adjusted to the present level of the prices (2019), it would come to around $112.2 Million. 

In this self-portrait, Van Gogh had used his skill of communicating through the eyes. In this self-portrait, the brush strokes are quite simple, but the background is helping enough to heighten the face-value.

The Reaper (after Millet)
Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, New York

When I had put my first foot in the world of art, I was mesmerized by the paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. I do not know why I loved Rembrandt, the son of a wealthy man, as I always failed to identify myself with rich men. In my virgin years, I desired to become like some of the wealthiest names; but I could never identify myself with those wealthy gentlemen, as those men and I had nothing in common. 

But I could very well like Van Gogh. The greatness of Van Gogh, in addition to his being a great painter, was that he always owned two things in bulk. One was his madness and another was the emptiness of his pockets. I immediately shared his pocket position, and I had experienced some elements of madness while doing the first solo exhibition of my oil paintings.

When Van Gogh (1853-1890) had entered the streets of Paris, he did not know how he was going to make far-reaching influences on the world of art. Nor he knew that he would be remembered for hundreds of years. He did not know also that his life would end only at the age of 37 years. But the city of Paris was under the spell of contagious disease. And the name of that disease was the ‘artistic changes’. The colourful lava of impressionism was at its highest temperature. Painters like Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas were in full swing. 

Van Gogh recruited himself in the group. He suddenly became everybody’s darling. He worked with many of the artists possessing towering fame. It was the time when the lively paintings by impressionist artists done with striking colours were in demand; it was the time when the Tahitian women painted by Gauguin were a hot favourite in the market. 

The Road Menders         Vincent van Gogh
Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington DC

For the bubbling artist in Van Gogh, it was the best of the times. The masterpiece paintings like The Red Vineyard, The Night Café and Bedroom in Arles was the direct results of the Parisian effect on Van Gogh. His colours had become brighter, and the brush strokes pleasantly short. The short brush strokes could be the symbol of his increasing mental unrest due to his deteriorating health. We can see that effect in the brush-strokes applied in the painting The Road Menders given here. Van Gogh had made a permanent pact with two things: One was the art of painting and the second was his mental illness.

Van Gogh was not only good at using colours. He would become famous among the ladies, too. Charming of the daughter of his landlady is one of the finest examples of how he would be loved by the women. Moreover, his fame is due to the efforts of one helping lady. She was the wife of his brother Theo who made Van Gogh so famous after his death. 

Saint-Rémy- Road with Cypress and Star
Vincent van Gogh Kröller-Müller
Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands
“Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use colour more arbitrarily so as to express myself more forcibly. –Van Gogh.

There can be no more detailed explanation of the art of Van Gogh than what he said in his own words. The employment of artistic skills is a complex one in a sense. The painter’s work is somehow to make a replica of the mental images he or she has made after observing a natural scene or collection of the objects. 

Here in the Saint-Rémy- Road with Cypress and Star (1890, the last year of his life), Van Gogh’s art seems to be at its peak. In this painting, he would have intended to charge the canvas with emotional energy. And for creating the expressive effect, he applied several necessary variations in brush strokes. We can see these variations, both in length and power. The final outcome is utterly aesthetic.

Wheat Field with Cypresses 
National Gallery, Central London
An artist desires to share his or her experience with the viewers through the art. Thus the work of an artist builds a bridge between the viewers and the inner traffic that had run through the artist’s mind. Perhaps that is the neat duty of a true artist. Van Gogh wanted to observe his duty cleanly, and he did it. 

Look at the painting Wheat Field with Cypresses. This painting was sold at a price of $57 Million in the year 1993. If the price is adjusted to the present level of the prices (2019), it would come to around $101 Million. In this painting,  Van Gogh had used bright colours. It generated the required effects of light-infused in the painting. 

In his private life, Van Gogh had passed through a turbulent road that was enough harsh to make him restless. In this painting, his feeling of restlessness has crept out and had taken the route of expression through the brush strokes. Here the brush-strokes look almost chaotic. We can see this technique of using the hyperactive brush in his other works, too, where he had succeeded in creating wonderful variety in expressive textures.

Van Gogh Searching for Subjects: The writers and poets have a poetic licence from the almighty god. The artists have this type of licence for using their artistic freedom, too. While acting upon this special authority, poetic licence, the painters impose the forms in their paintings. They do so by making the altered state of the forms. 

However, the trend of imposing such transformed forms has never remained static. It has gone of constant change since the days of ancient artists’ work to the modern stock of the artistic outputs. And that is the reason why the forms on the canvases have always kept changing; the shapes of the objects painted have transformed themselves as per the wishes of a particular artist like Picasso and Van Gogh.

The Potato Eaters Oil on Canvas  Vincent van Gogh 
Van Gogh Museum  AmsterdamNetherlands

Analysing The Painting: In the initial spell of his artistic journey, van Gogh found it difficult to concentrate on the work of painting. He used dark and fast colours initially. It was not the style of the time. it was not the practice in Paris. But his painting The Potato Eaters, which he painted in the year 1885, gave him the required break and he was then considered as an artist of value. Van Gogh's living in Paris and his friendship with impressionist painter-friends helped him to understand the technique of painting the effects of light. His stay in Brussels got him equipped with the knowledge of perspective drawing and anatomy.

In this painting The Potato Eaters we can see the influence of impressionism. Van Gogh's skill of perspective painting and his knowledge about anatomy is visible in this painting. The manner in which he dealt with the colours was robust. His conveying of messages was realistic. He had employed all of these qualities in this painting. Though he was considered an impressionist artist, the translation of his skill, onto canvases, as a draftsman was stunningly impressive.

Remember the impressionists and the cubist style of painters who reproduce the forms as they perceive with their artistic eyes. These artists are like true revolutionist; their outputs, the paintings, hardly conform to the real forms in shape and size. In The Potato Eaters, the master artist Van Gogh had used his well-established technique of presenting the strain of emotion. And for that, the painter applied short strokes of brushes. Such strokes depict the tension the artist was feeling inside of him and then releasing the same through the skill of his brush. [All images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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