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Saturday, September 16, 2023

My Art History: Vincent Van Gogh

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**Authentically Human! Not Written by AI**

The Starry Night
Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Museum of Modern Art, New York

For me, Van Gogh (1853-1890) is right up there with Monet as an influence.  His paintings have an immediate, visceral effect.  And the colors, oh, my!  When I'm sketching with my little gouache kit, the pan colors of which verge on the hallucinogenic—an intense palette far outside my norm—I think of Van Gogh and, inspired, I fling color with abandon.

But I find the story of his life even more inspiring.  Like many, I read Irving Stone's novel about Van Gogh, Lust for Life – and not once, but many times.  Although it's considered biofiction, it showed me the fierce dedication an artist needs in order to stay true to his vision.  I also read Stone's other book, Dear Theo, which consists of a selection of Vincent's letters to his supportive brother.  The letters, filled with discussions of pigments and painting methods, showed me the depth of learning and practice you need to become a good painter.

Van Gogh is a role model for me.  I stop short, however, of drinking absinthe, courting women of ill repute, and annoying the locals.  Even so, Stone casts Van Gogh as a romantic character.  Wouldn't it be nice to live in the South of France in a yellow house and to go out and paint from sunrise to sunset when the weather is fine? Especially if a sibling will mail you a box of paints and canvases now and then so you can keep painting and not have to worry about selling anything.

Don McLean's song "Vincent," released in 1971 and which quickly rose to the top of the charts, created a flurry of interest in Van Gogh, which may have sparked my own.  I even painted a copy of "Starry Night" for my high school English teacher.  I have no recollection how good a copy it was, but the gift says something about my interest in Van Gogh and my admiration for my teacher.

Van Gogh was, of course, a dedicated plein air painter.  He wrote to Theo:

I must have picked a good hundred flies and more off the 4 canvases that you’ll be getting, not to mention dust and sand &c. – not to mention that, when one carries them across the heath and through hedgerows for a few hours, the odd branch or two scrapes across them.


Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better.
Van Gogh's painting gear
Van Gogh Museum