Vincent VAN GOGH

Ansel Adams

John James Audubon Mary Cassatt Paul Cézanne Leonardo Da Vinci Edgar Degas The Hudson River School Michelangelo Claude Monet The Pre-Raphaelites Pierre-Auguste Renoir Vincent Van Gogh Frank Lloyd Wright

Vincent VAN GOGH


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First printing 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN (hardback) 978-1-4222-4644-3 ISBN (series) 978-1-4222-4632-0 ISBN (ebook) 978-1-4222-7182-7

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Developed and produced by National Highlights, Inc. Editor: Regency House Publishing Limited Interior and cover design: Regency House Publishing Limited Text © 2023 Regency House Publishing Limited

Front cover: Midday (1890) Page 1: Bute-Fin Windmill (1887) Page 2–3: The Harvest (1888)


The Art of Van Gogh 7 Series Glossary of Key Terms 92

Index 94 List of Plates 96


PLATE 1 Photograph of Vincent Van Gogh (1887)



Vincent Van Gogh was born in March 1853 in Zundert, the Netherlands. He was the son of a pastor. Van Gogh’s first job was for an art dealing company. However, he did not enjoy this occupation and left the firm in 1876. Following a brief period in the teaching profession, he became a preacher in Belgium. In 1880, at the age of 27, Van Gogh decided to become a full-time artist. Fortunately, his brother Theo helped him financially. Eventually, in 1886, he joined his brother in Paris, where he became friends with many important artists of the time including Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, and Gauguin. Under the influence of these artists, together with time spent in the south of France, his work became brighter and more vivid. Throughout his life, Van Gogh suffered from mental health problems and in July 1890, at the age of 37, he shot himself and after two days, he died.


I f price is the measure of value, Van Gogh was one of the greatest of all painters. Of course, the price of an object is, in one way, a valid indication of a real commercial value. Whatever the price of anything, if it sells, then someone wants it, and that in itself creates one criterion of value. With most manufactures, the selling price is at least related in some way to the cost of manufacture, including materials plus a profit margin. Such costs go up and down, and prices go up and down— or should—although they appear to have more of a struggle going down than up. But in the art world, the problem is much more complicated, and evaluations are more unreliable. Of course, the same principle of supply and demand will operate, and Van Gogh’s work commands world-record prices, reflecting an intense demand for what is a limited, finite supply. Here it is necessary to consider not only the

number of paintings produced but the remaining number available—many are not for sale at any price. Perhaps the first point to make is that, unlike the manufacturing situation, the product cost—canvas and paint—bears little or no relationship to the price. There is an added perceived value by association. If it is a Van Gogh, it is, by definition, currently worth a fortune. Of course, it was not always so—Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, and that was for only a few francs. From this, it becomes apparent that the value of the object, already established as unrelated to its physical cost, is also related to its perceived value. The attributed value of most artefacts, including paintings, is subject to considerable fluctuation, both up and down. Despite what might properly be described as a failed career in painting, it is extraordinary to realize how quickly Van Gogh’s reputation improved after his death.



Expressionist exploration in the few years of life he had left. In this painting, his manipulation of thick impasto and the careful composition moving from the top left to the bottom right in a steady progression of trees suggest that there are more trees behind the viewer, with two effects. First, it connects the viewer with the small isolated figure and second, it draws the viewer into the picture space and the emotional tension of the young girl’s pose. It was Post-Impressionist in its Expressionist intention before Van Gogh was actually aware of the Impressionist movement.

PLATE 2 Young Girl in Wood (1882) Oil on canvas, 15 1 ⁄ 3 x 23 1 ⁄

4 inches (39 x 59 cm)

Although Van Gogh began drawing with the serious intention of becoming an artist, it was not until the summer of 1882 that he began to paint in oils. This painting is interesting on this basis alone, since it is one of the earliest executed by him, and it shows rather more basic accomplishment than he is usually recognized as possessing. Indeed, as his unsuccessful career advanced, his Academic control was gradually replaced by his



PLATE 3 Two Women in a Wood (1882) Oil on paper on panel, 12 x 9 1 ⁄

2 inches (31 x 24 cm)

The viewer of this painting is cleverly led into the depths of the wood by the figure in the foreground, and then to the other woman walking away into the distance, perhaps suggesting a sound understanding of perspective.

Articles, exhibitions, catalogs, and, later, books (of which this is a small example) have poured into a voracious marketplace since before World War I, and the process continues. The story of Van Gogh’s life, tragic in its actuality and glorious in its legacy, continues to fascinate. It is also worth noting that despite a lack of sales and public recognition, the enthusiasm of one or two admirers, the willingness of galleries to show his work, and the representation of his work in many mixed shows indicate that he was not an unknown painter during his working life. He knew many, if not most, of the artists we would regard as important today, and even if many of his contemporaries regarded him as in some way a little odd or strange, his work interested many people. The fact that he sold only one painting might appear to be a failure, but that is not so: from the very start, some regarded Van Gogh as a genius. Van Gogh worked as an artist for at most ten years, and of those, only the last four produced his most representative works. As early as 1884, he said to a friend: “I certainly hope to sell in the course of time, but I think I shall be able to influence it most effectively by

working steadily on, and that at the present moment making desperate efforts to force the work I am doing now upon the public would be pretty useless.” Ten years is not a lengthy career, and although Van Gogh wished and, indeed, tried to sell his work, he realized that he was making progress in his work and required more time to arrive at his full achievement. It might be argued that his unsatisfactory life was his own fault and that his suicide was an admission of defeat or inadequacy, but equally, recognizing his temperament and mental condition, it might be that he was unable to overcome the pressures imposed by his intense, creative nature.





PLATE 4 Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather (1882) Oil on canvas, 13 1 ⁄ 5 x 20 inches (34.5 x 51 cm) This painting shows the beach at Scheveningen, on the North Sea coast, a few miles from The Hague. It was painted in August 1882 on a stormy day. The work was crafted quickly, en plein air . It is understood that the wind almost blew Van Gogh off his feet while he was painting it. There is some residue of wind-blown sand still attached to the painting.

In the course of studying his life, nevertheless, we shall have to consider why Van Gogh is now so highly valued, why he was not during his lifetime, and whether he is as reliable a long-term investment as at present he appears to be. This last point is considerably important, and many self-interests are involved. There have been intense debates concerning Van Gogh’s works that have sold for very large sums of money but later have been attacked as forgeries. If not Van Goghs, they will be worth only a little, as curiosities, and someone will lose a great deal of money. But of course, though their provenances are in doubt, the paintings remain unchanged and presumably still give the same amount of pleasure to viewers. But since they have lost value, in some respects that is evidently not so—or perhaps the forgers were as good as Van Gogh, and the works do in fact have the qualities they were perceived as having when considered to be by Van Gogh.





PLATE 5 Bulb Fields (1883) Oil on canvas on wood, 19 3 ⁄

4 x 26 inches (48.9 x 66 cm)

Bulb Fields , also known as Flower Beds , was painted by Van Gogh in 1883. It reflects his early style of painting landscapes. This painting shows tulip fields in blossom, and was created during Van Gogh’s time at The Hague. The bulb fields were characteristic of Van Gogh’s Dutch homeland. This striking painting was created with a technique using numerous and significantly truncated brushstrokes, creating a more detailed, subtler effect.

It is also not unreasonable to suggest that many collect great paintings in order to surround themselves with an aura of culture, and the prime motivation might not be so much a love of art as a desire to be seen as the possessor of such riches. In these egalitarian days, when the aristocracy is under threat, a hierarchy of culture may be emerging. If that is true, then it is unlikely that prices or works of art once established in this field (or publicly given for other cultural activities) will be allowed to diminish in value at the highest levels. The number of great American industrialists who are better known for their art collections than for their ownership of railroads perhaps establishes that in a land where aristocracy has no relevance. These comments and speculations are in no way original. They present a constant underlying apprehension 13


(as much as possible). It seems that the reason that Van Gogh painted the weaver subject a number of times lay in his admiration of craftsmanship and simple machinery. As in other paintings of the period, he was interested in the Rembrandtesque effect of the artificial gaslight in which most of the weavers worked. He was also attracted by the silhouette of the figure and loom against the brighter walls.

PLATE 6 The Weaver/The Loom (1884) Oil on canvas (probably on card), 14 1 ⁄

2 x 17

3 ⁄

4 inches

(37 x 45 cm)

This is a subject that Van Gogh treated a number of times in different ways and on different scales. It was his practice to repeat most of his significant subjects with either small variations or to make them almost identical


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