During my stop-over in The Netherlands on my way to Thailand, I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I knew a few things about him from school and the story about cutting his own ear and suicide. I was so grateful to learn more about him through his art at the museum and the audio tour.
[me next to a reproduction of Van Gogh's famous sunflowers.]
a few interesting facts
- Van Gogh was working a “regular” job before he decided to follow his dream and take up art.
- he originally started painting still-life in darker, natural colors. His first notable painting “the potato eaters” was painted with what he said were the colors of the dusty potatoes them selves. It’s amazing to see the transformation in his art when he started exploring with color.
- Van Gogh had a hard time making a living as a painter and his brother supported him, giving him a monthly allowance for painting supplies.
- toward the end of his life he painted approx two paintings per day. This rapid painting allowed him to further develop the technique of “wet on wet,” where instead of waiting for layers of paint to dry, you put layers on top of each other immediately resulting in the paints blending and mixing more.
- a new painting if his was discovered and confirmed as authentically his at the end if 2013, they confirmed it by cross-referencing letters, styles/techniques, type of paint, and documentation. (Archival nerd in me thought this was so cool!)
- in the last two weeks before his suicide he painted a series of wheat fields with approaching thunderstorms. Generally people speculate this as a foreshadowing to his suicide, though the museum audio tour says that at that time, he wrote in letters that he was feeling healthier. Who knows the deeper meaning behind the paintings, but they are haunting non-the-less.
[this painting is of the sea. At the time Van Gogh did this, painters had just discovered how to put paint in tubes (instead of mixing them on their own) and this allowed painters to paint in the open air, on-site. The museum discovered grains of sand I the paint on this painting, suggesting that he did it on the beach that he was painting. Also, his technique of wet-on-wet allowed him to more accurately portray the sunlight on the waves. This is one of my favorites.]
It was also neat to learn about some of his techniques and how I have incorporated them into my own art.
Here are a few:
- he experimented with primary colors and complimentary colors. His famous blue and purple flower vase on a yellow background is a great example. I’ve done a few pieces where I use complimentary colors to make them pop visually.
- he got stuck on different colors at times. He wrote beautifully in a letter to his brother about discovering the color blue “cobalt.” I’ve definitely gotten stuck on the color blue before :)
- Van Gogh was inspired by nature. I especially like his paintings of the “undergrowth” and woods landscapes.
[complementary colors- green and red]
Another part of Van Gogh’s story which was moving to me was his struggle with “mental illness.” I put this in quotations because it is my belief that society sets a specific “norm” and those who do not conform are labeled as “outsiders” or “ill.” Clearly Van Gogh was a genius, a unique person, though he struggled to “fit in” with the world around him. If I am correct, Van Gogh is included in Kay Redfield Jamison’s “Touched with Fire”.
As a society we need to do a better job making a place for people who don’t conform to mainstream ideas of “normal.” Forcing them to conform, invalidating them, and labeling them as “other” not only seriously hurts them, but also hurts us as a human race. The better we can accept and love all of our brothers and sisters the better a place our world will be. Imagine how many more beautiful pieces of art work – a full life time’s worth! – if the world could have been more accepting of Van Gogh.