07 Apr FAMOUS DUTCH PAINTERS – 3. Vincent Willem van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh (Dutch: [ˈvɪnsənt ˈʋɪləm vɑŋ ˈɣɔx] (About this soundlisten); 30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. He was not commercially successful, and his suicide at 37 came after years of mental illness, depression and poverty.
Born into an upper-middle-class family, Van Gogh drew as a child and was serious, quiet, and thoughtful. As a young man he worked as an art dealer, often travelling, but became depressed after he was transferred to London. He turned to religion and spent time as a Protestant missionary in southern Belgium. He drifted in ill health and solitude before taking up painting in 1881, having moved back home with his parents. His younger brother Theo supported him financially, and the two kept a long correspondence by letter. His early works, mostly still lifes and depictions of peasant labourers, contain few signs of the vivid colour that distinguished his later work. In 1886, he moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, including Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. As his work developed he created a new approach to still lifes and local landscapes. His paintings grew brighter in colour as he developed a style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in the south of France in 1888. During this period he broadened his subject matter to include series of olive trees, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly and drank heavily. His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor when, in a rage, he severed part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued, and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a Lefaucheux revolver. He died from his injuries two days later.
Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and he was considered a madman and a failure. He became famous after his suicide and exists in the public imagination as a misunderstood genius, the artist “where discourses on madness and creativity converge”. His reputation began to grow in the early 20th century as elements of his painting style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical, commercial and popular success over the ensuing decades, and he is remembered as an important but tragic painter, whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist. Today, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings to have ever sold, and his legacy is honoured by a museum in his name, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds the world’s largest collection of his paintings and drawings.
The Starry Night
The Starry Night is an oil on canvas painting by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an imaginary village. It has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. Widely regarded as Van Gogh’s magnum opus, The Starry Night is one of the most recognized paintings in Western art.
The Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole
In the aftermath of the 23 December 1888 breakdown that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear, Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole lunatic asylum on 8 May 1889. Housed in a former monastery, Saint-Paul-de-Mausole catered to the wealthy and was less than half full when Van Gogh arrived, allowing him to occupy not only a second-story bedroom but also a ground-floor room for use as a painting studio.
During the year Van Gogh stayed at the asylum, the prolific output of paintings he had begun in Arles continued. During this period, he produced some of the best-known works of his career, including the Irises from May 1889, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the blue self-portrait from September, 1889, in the Musée d’Orsay. The Starry Night was painted mid-June by around 18 June, the date he wrote to his brother Theo to say he had a new study of a starry sky.
Although The Starry Night was painted during the day in Van Gogh’s ground-floor studio, it would be inaccurate to state that the picture was painted from memory. The view has been identified as the one from his bedroom window, facing east,a view which Van Gogh painted variations of no fewer than twenty-one times, including The Starry Night. “Through the iron-barred window,” he wrote to his brother, Theo, around 23 May 1889, “I can see an enclosed square of wheat … above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory.”
Van Gogh depicted the view at different times of the day and under various weather conditions, such as the sunrise, moonrise, sunshine-filled days, overcast days, windy days, and one day with rain. While the hospital staff did not allow Van Gogh to paint in his bedroom, he was able there to make sketches in ink or charcoal on paper; eventually, he would base newer variations on previous versions. The pictorial element uniting all of these paintings is the diagonal line coming in from the right depicting the low rolling hills of the Alpilles mountains. In fifteen of the twenty-one versions, cypress trees are visible beyond the far wall enclosing the wheat field. Van Gogh telescoped the view in six of these paintings, most notably in Wheat Field with Cypresses and The Starry Night, bringing the trees closer to the picture plane.
One of the first paintings of the view was F611 Mountainous Landscape Behind Saint-Rémy, now in Copenhagen. Van Gogh made a number of sketches for the painting, of which The Enclosed Wheatfield After a Storm is typical. It is unclear whether the painting was made in his studio or outside. In his 9 June letter describing it, he mentions he had been working outside for a few days. Van Gogh described the second of the two landscapes he mentions he was working on, in a letter to his sister Wil on 16 June 1889. This is Green Wheat Field with Cypress, now in Prague, and the first painting at the asylum he definitely painted en plein air.F1548 Wheatfield, Saint-Rémy de Provence, now in New York, is a study for it. Two days later, Vincent wrote to Theo stating that he had painted “a starry sky”.
The Starry Night is the only nocturne in the series of views from his bedroom window. In early June, Vincent wrote to Theo, “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big”. Researchers have determined that Venus (sometimes referred to as the “morning star”) was indeed visible at dawn in Provence in the spring of 1889, and was at that time nearly as bright as possible. So the brightest “star” in the painting, just to the viewer’s right of the cypress tree, is actually Venus.
The Moon is stylized, as astronomical records indicate that it actually was waning gibbous at the time Van Gogh painted the picture, and even if the phase of the Moon had been its waning crescent at the time, Van Gogh’s Moon would not have been astronomically correct. (For other interpretations of the Moon, see below.) The one pictorial element that was definitely not visible from Van Gogh’s cell is the village, which is based on a sketch made from a hillside above the village of Saint-Rémy. Pickvance thought was done later, and the steeple more Dutch than Provençal, a conflation of several Van Gogh had painted and drawn in his Nuenen period, and thus the first of his “reminisces of the North” he was to paint and draw early the following year. Hulsker thought a landscape on the reverse F1541r was also a study for the painting.
- Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: https://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/rembrandt-harmenszoon-van-rijn-2526b/?lang=en
- Johannes Vermeer: https://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/johannes-vermeer-2526b/?lang=en
- Frans Hals: https://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/frans-hals-2526d/?lang=en
- Pieter Claesz: https://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/pieter-claesz-2526e/?lang=en