Good Example Of The Interior Works Of Van Gogh: An Analysis Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Vincent Van Gogh, Painting, Art, Color, Life, Artists, People, Night

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/03/30

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Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist who painted almost 900 paintings including self-portraits which mostly deal with the life of the common people (Van Gogh Gallery, “Vincent van Gogh Paintings”). Additionally, van Gogh used his artworks similar to a diary to record his emotions on canvas. Vincent van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853 (Graefe, 1) in the Groot-Zundert, a Dutch parsonage village in an upper middle class family. Being the oldest son in the family, Van Gogh had a brother and a sister. His brother Theo van Gogh, worked as an art dealer, was one of the most important and influential people in Vincent’s short life. There were more than a thousand of correspondences between them that Theo has supported his brother’s life and career both physically and mentally, and there letters later became the most critical source for descendants to learn about Vincent’s life. Theo as being an art dealer often tried to control Vincent’s turbulent brush strokes saying that no one likes to have a messy painting. But Vincent who was ardent to his art like a lover, ignored his brother’s advice and continued in developing his own personality in art. Migration was a part of his youth and through his life, he had moved regularly to different places, which had also influence the subjects and his art as whole significantly. Basically, he travelled to different places to mingle with the other people so that he can have good subjects for his art. He moved to Nuenen in 1883, Antwerp in 1885, Paris in 1886, Arles in 1888, the asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889, wherein he painted the famous Starry Starry Night just overlooking the scenery from the window of his room. He stayed in Auvers-sur-Oise in Paris in 1890 where he died of suicide (presumably). This was due to the recent scholarship pointing out van Gogh’s friends Paul Gauguin was responsible for his death. Van Gogh’s painting style was shaped under the influence of many artists and critics. Freudian analysis posit that van Gogh’s id represented by his intense desire to produce finest works of art soon overwhelmed his ego which already been subjected to the influences of the society (Stewart-Roberts, 2010; p. 31). Scholars believed that van Gogh’s passion and inner turmoil, in addition to his dedication to the theological knowledge soon overwhelmed his mind which enabled him to think that he was a big disappointment in the world. His interest in painting started even when still a child, his mother Anna considered his profession as futureless because van Gogh’s art was different from his contemporary artists. Van Gogh originally started drawing black and white pictures and as soon as he mastered the right techniques in pencil sketching, van Gogh proceeded to paint using colors. His favorite medium was oil on canvas and this medium showcases his slapstick brushwork and turbulent swirls; notably in the Starry, Starry Night.
Before his death, He later combined his own understanding of the art with the techniques learnt from Old Masters and Barbizon and Hague Schools, which indicated a style of Naturalism, together to form his own style. His interest in Old Dutch masters, especially Rembrandt who lived in the 17th century, had a major impact on his art career. Instead of the preference for the sense of precision and the refined touch in paintings in 18th century, the sort of audacious painting style became the inclination in mid-19th century. Van Gogh deeply admired the bold brushwork and the daring use of color and light of Rembrandt. In October 1885, he visited Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to see Rembrandt’s The Syndics of the Cloth Guild, 1662 in person. The painting depicted several drapers, assessing the quality of the cloth. Under a rather dark environment, Rembrandt used red that regularly occurred in his works, to paint the cloth. The wall surrounded them was roughly painted without clear contours, as well as the fringe and the pattern of the cloth. Van Gogh was inspired by the quickly painted quality without retouching the parts that was already painted in Rembrandt’s work.
Furthermore, interior works of the respected Dutch painter Jozef Israels have become the main influence for one of the greatest paintings of van Gogh—The Potato Eaters. Israels’s The Frugal Meal painted in 1876 depicted a peasant family having meal in shadowed and dark room. Without any use of vivid color, the whole scene was painted in a deep earth tone. The furniture and the clothing of the figures were all in similar colors but were clearly separated by the skillful exploitation of light and shadow. Although this should be a deplorable scene showing a family in poverty, the haze of the food and the light casted by either the light or the sun gave the picture a sort of warmness. From the roughness of the brushstroke, the color use, and the effect of the bitumen, Van Gogh has seen a trace of Rembrandt in Israels’s work and has drawn inspiration for The Potato Eater. The Potato Eater was finished in April 1885 after a whole winter of study, depicting the daily life of peasants that became one of the main subjects in van Gogh’s collection. Using a bluish green as the main tone, the painting offered a sense of strong oppressiveness. The interior was not clearly shown. The furniture in the background was only roughly painted with slightly lighter lines. The wall on the right between the two figures, created an odd division in the limited space. The only lighting source of the room was the single light at the table. Applying light on dark, van Gogh was daring in the use of light and shadow for this painting. The contours of the peasants’ faces were exaggerated. The mysterious highlights on the face almost broke their faces into geometrical shapes. Although the painting was criticized at the time, van Gogh’s devotion to depict the life of lower class people could not be ignored.
One of the most exceptional traits of van Gogh’s work was his audacity and enthusiasm in the color use. Charles Blanc’s color theory in his Grammaire des Arts du Dessin has become an authority and guidance for artists of that time, including van Gogh. Born in 1813 in France, Charles Blanc started off as an art critique and later became the president of the Commission of Historic Monument. As a key supporter and influential power Neo-Impressionism paintings, Blanc contributed greatly to the color theory and Divisionism along with Michel Eugene Chevreul who put forward the law of simultaneous contrast of colors. Rather than mixing colors on the palette to create another color, for example mixing yellow with blue to create green, the Divisionism proposed to put dots or patches of color in complementary colors beside each other, and let the human eye to mix the two colors together, which was called in the scientific field “the optical mixture”. He also created a hexagram-shaped color cycle to support his theory, with the exclusion of black and white.
In order to avoid to be categorized into the Impressionists that worked toward simply capturing and copying the effect of light, van Gogh has showed far more ambitious ways of using colors. In his painting entitled The Night Café (Fr. Le Café Nuit) he demonstrated that he can also paint using the expressionist style. The colors were bold, sinister, and awful to the eye. In fact, this is how van Gogh intends to portray it. In a correspondence dated August 6, 1888; Vincent explained to Theo about the interiors of The Night Café reflects the deep sorrow and anguish of the people who often go there. By going to night cafés, van Gogh noted that there must be something upset to a person if they will end up to a place like that. The walls of the café were painted with a single tone dark red whilst the green ceiling contrasts the walls.
“Van Gogh reiterated that the power to create paintings involved the process of using expressive colors instead of trying to portray the actual subject. Van Gogh imposes himself forcefully on each painting to express himself to the public” (Kleiner, 702).
Another feature of van Gogh’s artwork is the quality of his brushstrokes which according to scholars suggest a hint about the emotions of the artist. The turbulent brush strokes and the wild colors imply the artist’s state of mind. An excerpt from one of his letters dated September 8, 1888 van Gogh stated his own explanation why he painted the room using the colors.
“I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four citron-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most disparate reds and greens in the figures of little sleeping hooligans, in the empty, dreary room, in violet and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for instance, contrast with the soft, tender Louis XV green of the counter, on which there is a pink nosegay. The white coat of the landlord, awake in a corner of that furnace, turns citron-yellow, or pale luminous green.” (“Van Gogh’s Letters,” qtd. from Kleiner, 702).
Although it was eccentric, but the colors corresponds to their master’s personality: Eccentric, creative, and a genius. The Bedroom at Arles was the opposite of The Night Café. In this painting, the brushstrokes were refined, calm, and the colors were less vivid and bold compared to The Night Café. The interior of the room was simple and calm; probably, van Gogh painted his room in this way because he already found calmness and peace in soul. Furthermore, the painting also provides some historic artifacts from the life in the early 19th century. The Bedroom at Arles shows the common tools of used by the people such as the small pitcher placed on the table with a wash basin. This reflects that the 19th century lacked the proper facilities for hygiene. On the right side of the painting were artworks created by van Gogh whilst the lower one was probably a sample of a Japanese artwork that he bought from France. According to his letter to his brother, he explained the details of his artwork:
“My eyes are still tired by then I had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch of it; another size 30 canvas. This time it's just simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and giving by its simplification a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination.” (Van Gogh Gallery, “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles.”)
He painted his bedroom using different mediums, oil on canvas and sketches. According to some sources, he originally painted five versions of the room interior to show it on a different perspective aside from the oil painting. Another notable trait of the sketch version of his bedroom was that it was less messy and less troublesome in appearance. Whilst he was using brush, van Gogh’s brushstrokes were influenced by his own emotions: if he has manic attacks, his brush stroke would be tight and hard. In the Starry Night, his brush strokes were smooth and flowing. He depicted the night sky like water and the village that rests under look liked an underwater village. Van Gogh varied his techniques in painting. For example, in his landscape paintings, he tend to use the swirls; in the interior designs and portraits, he uses the rapid brush and pointillism to cover up the blank areas of the canvas. Pointilism is his forte and since he was a master of expressive brush strokes, Vincent van Gogh excelled in depicting life as it was: fleeting, sometimes calm, riotous like the people of the restaurants, and sad just like the people in the Potato Eaters.
Moving forward, van Gogh also painted the Interior of a Restaurant in Arles in 1888, the same year. During his stay in Arles, he became engrossed in his work and painted many still-lives, landscapes, and portraits. In this painting, van Gogh tried other painting techniques and used fewer brushstrokes compare to his works. The colors that he used were more of earthen palette which made the painting appeared as a yellowish daguerreotype image. Furthermore, the painting also tells some story like The Night Café; however, compared to the interior designs of that painting, Interior of a Restaurant in Arles have a balanced and refined brushstrokes than any of his painting which represents that probably his mind was calm when he painted the portrait. Whilst staying in Arles, van Gogh was engrossed in his work that he soon neglected his personal needs for the sake of art. He painted the landscapes and mostly his art centered on the interiors of the French cafés. He also made a painting of an unknown restaurant dated in 1887. The characteristic of his work on that painting is that he explored the pointillism technique which produced quite a rustic and unique approach to the work. The interiors of the room were not loud; instead van Gogh depicted the quaint charm of the old café by using Earth tones such as brown, golden ochre, white, maroon red, blue, and greens. The café he portrayed was no ordinary café. It was probably a café reserved for the wealthy or middle class people. Fine china was placed atop the light mahogany tables. White and red flowers were also placed on tall vases which gave the place a charming feminine appeal. The painting showcases the aesthetic beauty of the restaurant’s interior design which is a typical style used during the Regency Era. In interior designing, van Gogh sometimes switches from rapid brush strokes to slower and more definite strokes to refine the image of the restaurant as well as to try out different methods of painting. One of the influences in his work were the Japanese woodblock prints that he purchased. The colors intrigued van Gogh because unlike the traditional Impressionists who rarely used lines in their drawings; van Gogh noted that the Japanese painters outline their subjects with black ink and uses only a single tone of color without lightness and darkness as if the Japanese artists were trying to simplify their subjects.
Van Gogh’s was a highly exceptional artist and he wants to try out many techniques as possible. He was not the traditional painter who sticks to the conventional norms in painting. Van Gogh’s unique art stunned the world and his beautiful paintings were misinterpreted simply because the people were not yet ready to let go the traditional painting styles. After his death, some artistic movements such as the fauvism were based on van Gogh’s use of bold and single tone colors in the painting. To some people, the paintings produced by either van Gogh or by Fauvist artists, they might get shocked due to the peculiarity of their interior artworks such in the case of The Night Café wherein an art connoisseur critiqued it as a product of a sick mentality due to the poor combination of greens ceiling versus the red walls. Yellow halos often dominated the paintings of van Gogh. In his later life van Gogh became an excessive alcoholic and neglected his food to pay his models.
Vincent van Gogh’s style is adapting through the changes of the society. His paintings reflect his compassion and artistic talents trapped with the misinterpretation of the Christian beliefs as well as the rejection he received from the society and his family (except Theo). However, it was because of his style that made his paintings unique and expensive unlike the works of the painters during his time. Although Vincent van Gogh was scorned and ridiculed by the society during his time, the artist and his works are far more popular across the world and the paintings which he have made in the past have been the subject of many scholarship regarding psychoanalysis. In his quest to satisfy his love for art, van Gogh became a victim of the snobbish society; indeed, van Gogh’s life and works was no drama for it was real. Even today, many people have come to know van Gogh’s name by heart mainly due to the tragic history of his life and his efforts to be recognized in his field.
Furthermore, his life and works was also immortalized in the 1970’s hit song by Don McLean entitled, Vincent along with its captivating and repetitive lyrics, “Starry Starry Night.” Furthermore, van Gogh’s depiction of interiors in his paintings suggests simplicity unlike the paintings of other post-Impressionist artist. Van Gogh was a flexible artist who can create fascinating artworks either through Expressionism or Impressionism styles. He was creative and bold when speaking and journaling his thoughts on his artworks. Which is why, upon gazing on some paintings created by van Gogh, some people would be able to see the life of the artist who struggled to find his place in the society.

Works Cited

Graefe, Julius Meier. Vincent van Gogh: A Biography. New York: Dover Publishing, 1987. Google Book.
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective Vol. II. 14th Ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2014. PDF File.
“Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles.” Vincent van Gogh Gallery, n.d.. Web. 23 April 2015.
“Vincent van Gogh Paintings.” Vincent van Gogh Gallery, n.d.. Web. 23 April 2015.

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