Vincent Willem van Gogh was born March 30, 1853 in a Presbytery in the Netherlands. His father was a pastor of a protestant church and his mother was a woman who was artistically talented. Van Gogh’s family was known for two professions: religious ministers and art dealers. Van Gogh was involved in both professions. Van Gogh was close to his brother Theo, and he wrote many letters to him documenting his life and artwork. Van Gogh lived a short life; he died of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound in 1890. Although he was not well-known while he was alive, Van Gogh is a very famous artist who has well known paintings. He once said “I am astounded at the high prices paid for works by painters who are dead, prices none of them could expect when they were alive. It is a kind of tulip trade, in which living painters suffer but do not profit.” Some consider him to be a “mad man artist”, but Van Gogh made so many contributions and influences in the art of the twentieth century (Welsh).
From a young age, van Gogh had a great interest in everything nature, including insects and wildflowers. He would spend many hours exploring outside. He was very well educated. He studied drawing, botany, zoology, and geometry. He knew how to read and write in Dutch, German, French, and English. Although he did well in school and was very intellectual, he left school at the age of fifteen to go and work for his uncle at an art firm. He continued to work in the art area for seven years where he gained knowledge of art critiquing and dealing. He experienced an emotional setback (one of many in his short life) and decided to focus on religion. For the next few years, he devoted himself to self-denial, bible study, religious meditation, and ministry. Many times this would be all-consuming. Eventually his interest turned back to art, but this time as an artist. His brother Theo began supporting him, which he did until van Gogh died. Van Gogh made improvements in his own drawings by copying other works of art that had been published. He wrote to his brother, “For now, making copies is quite satisfactory for me. Since I don’t have any models, it is a way for me to not lose sight of the figure” (Welsh 215).
He developed a friendship with Dutch artist named Anthon Ridder van Rappard, who mentored him. At one time he considered becoming an illustrator and gained knowledge with black and white drawings, watercolors, and lithography. Once he established a studio, he began experimenting with oil painting. He was very interested in the laws of color. He liked working with contrasting colors as he expressed in a letter to his brother “Spring is the fresh green of young corn and the pink blush of blossoms. Autumn contrasts the yellowed foliage with violet hues. Winter is the white snow against its black forms?Summer is the contrast of blues and the golden bronze of the corn” (Welsh 26). He continued to work on his drawing by enrolling in the Academy of Art in Antwerp where he worked with live models and antique plaster casts. He stayed at the Academy for only a short time; he refused to follow their teachings. Instead, he chose to be influenced by other artists and their interesting techniques Britannica). You could say that van Gogh was essentially a self-taught artist.
Vincent van Gogh was an artist during the post-impressionist period. Post-impressionism is an art movement and it developed in the 1890s. It is a period that came after the Impressionist period and before the Fauvists period (Samplers). The styles and techniques that post-impressionist artists used are all very different; they all had varied techniques, styles, and subject manner. But, what brought them all together is that they had a subjective approach to their painting. They all invoked emotion into their art pieces rather than their pieces being precise and realistic. Brushstrokes were unique and added texture. They used color in an almost unnatural way, differently than the periods before them. They all used their art as a way to convey feelings and emotions. “According to Paul Cezanne, a work of art which did not begin in emotion is not a work of art” (Samplers).
Van Gogh most definitely displayed characteristics of the post-impressionist period. He is considered one of the greatest post-impressionist painters after Rembrandt Van Rijn (Britannica). Van Gogh did not just paint what he saw, but he painted how he felt about what he was seeing. He painted his emotional feelings toward a subject. His paintings seem so expressive. He once said, “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream” (Vincent). His dreams must have been very colorful, wild, and energetic, because you can see this in the brush strokes of so many of his art pieces. At times these brushstrokes are short and broken; other times they are longer and thicker. Both convey emotions: calm, excited, happy, agitated, etc. He was so bold in his use of color; he didn’t use colors realistically as artists did in periods before him. He used the colors to convey how he felt. His individuality and style are recognizable. It is very spontaneous. Many say he worked with great speed so that he could capture the effect or mood he felt while it was with him. The thickness of the paint on his canvas is something characteristic to van Gogh. His painting techniques and style contributed to and influenced Abstract art. He helped to shape the periods (Fauvism, Expressionism, and Modernism) following post-impressionist (Vincent).
Cafe’ Terrace at Night is a 32 x 25?? in. oil on canvas that van Gogh painted on location in Arles during 1988. It is displayed in the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo (Welsh 103). The painting is of an outdoor view of a caf©. The caf© is located on a cobblestone street. Small tables and chairs are located on the patio. People are enjoying the caf© and strolling along the street. The sky is lit with all kinds of stars. The focus of this painting is the caf©. It is a bright yellow and green. It is contrasted against the blue. The cobble stone streets are a mixture of violet and brown. The texture of the cobblestone is created by using small curved lines. The irregular shaped buildings in the background are created with somewhat straight lines, broad brush strokes, and very dark colors, but you recognized they are buildings by the small brush strokes of yellow and orange that creates windows with light flowing through. The stars are covering the sky. They are made with bright colors: orange, yellow, pink, white. These colors contrast with the deep blue of the sky. Van Gogh describes his stars as “the stars shine yellow, white, pink even somewhat green against the deep blue of the sky” (Welsh 98).
There is texture in this painting; thick brush strokes that were created with thick paint. Black lines are used to outline the people strolling the street. The focus is first on the bright caf©, and then your focus is drawn upward towards the colorful and vibrant sky. The painting seems a little heavy on the left-hand side where the painting is occupied by the bright yellow caf© and terrace. There is somewhat of a diagonal that is created with the cobblestone walkway and the corners of buildings and the terrace. The people in the painting seem to be having a leisurely enjoyable time. The painting creates a happy and relaxing feeling. I want to be one of the people in the painting enjoying the casual nightlife. I find that the painting is exciting but at the same time peaceful. I feel that maybe I will look at the stars differently now. Van Gogh created a piece that stands out with his use of lines and contrasting colors. It is so very expressive. “It often seems to me that the night is even more vibrantly colored than the day” van Gogh once said (Vincent). This seems so true with Caf© Terrace at Night.
The Night Caf© is a 28?? x 36 ?? in. oil on canvas that van Gogh painted in 1888. It is displayed in the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven (Welsh 100). Like Caf© Terrace at Night, The Night Caf© was painted in Arles, but The Night Caf© is a painting of inside a caf©. This caf© shows table, chairs, and pool table. Five people are sitting at the tables and a waiter is standing. The room is lit by 4 hanging lights. A clock is hanging slightly off centered above the doorway leading possibly to a back room. The floor is bright yellow, the walls are red, and the ceiling is green. All these colors are contrasting with one another and some are separated with dark lines. The hanging lights are yellow with small yellow, orange, and blue lines creating the light/shine effect around them. The focus is first on these bright hanging lights, but then your eyes slowly begin to focus on the tables and the people sitting at them. The tables have glasses and presumably alcohol on them. The chairs are all pulled away from the table in all different directions. The people are slumped over possibly drunk, asleep, depressed, sad, etc. All of them (except the waiter) have their heads covered by hats; maybe hiding their faces and emotions even further. The only face that can be seen is that of the waiter, and he has a solemn look on his face and seems to be slightly slumped over.
The clock is showing 12:15 which I assume is after midnight. Van Gogh’s use of lines can be seen everywhere in this paining. Many items are outlines in black paint. Worn floor planks are creating by lines and interrupted brush strokes. Horizontal lines and brush strokes are used to create a wall and texture that somewhat keeps everyone contained or trapped in this room. This piece has somewhat of a diagonal feeling. There is a lot happening in the back corner, and then there is this empty space toward the front corner that the floor occupies. Texture is created with the thick paint and brush strokes. The colors are contrasting; the red wall is contrasting with the green ceiling. This painting creates a sad depressed feeling. It is definitely a gloomy piece. I do not want to be one of the people in the caf©. The caf© seems depressing and dirty to me. It is a sad, lonely, and hopeless place. Somewhat out of place, is a bouquet of flowers on the bar which I think may symbolize hopefulness for something better. Van Gogh told his brother “Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the caf© where I have a room, by gas light, in the evening. It is what they call here a caf© de nuit, staying open all night. Night prowlers can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in” (Vincent). Van Gogh captured this down and out feeling in The Night Caf©. It is a great painting that shows contrasting colors, expressive lines, and emotion that are so characteristic of Van Gogh. I believe at first glance this piece may seem simplistic, but after looking at it closely you can find so many interesting details that tell a story.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother “Whether or not I have succeeded, I do think my work will be carried on” (Welsh 160). His work did indeed carry on. He has become one of the most important artists in history. His artistic style has influenced so many people. Vincent Van Gogh’s 1,300 drawings and 850 paintings reached international acclaim a few decades after his death (Samplers).
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