Sunday, 16 October 2011


“In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” - Lord Alfred Tennyson

It was a cool, rather windy and showery day today so we ended up staying in and enjoying our home. Time enough to relax, listen to music, watch a movie, but also do some chores around the house. When the sun did peep out now and then one could always stroll in the garden and enjoy the roses and irises that are now blooming. Spring is a changeable season and today certainly was proof enough. We have a good variety of irises in the garden: Yellow, blue, purple, maroon and white. The blue and purple ones are my favourite and seem to characterise the essence of this flower. They are a beautiful flower, although very delicate and extremely quick to bloom and then rest for the remainder of the year.

For Art Sunday today, Vincent Van Gogh’s “Irises”, painted in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889. It is an oil on canvas, 71 x 94 cm and is owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in USA, currently to be viewed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Van Gogh is one of the greatest painters and even though success eluded him while he was alive, after his death his paintings became highly sought after and are now priceless. His distinctive style with its lively impasto and bright, almost pure pigment palette is immediately recognisable even by non-experts.

Unfortunately, this passionate and consummate artist became mentally unstable later in his life. In May 1889, after episodes of self-mutilation and hospitalisation, Vincent elected to enter a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. While an inmate there, in the last year before his death, he created about 130 paintings. Within the first week, he began to paint the “Irises” shown here, working from nature in the asylum’s garden. The composition is divided into broad areas of vivid color with the striking irises overflowing its borders, almost as though the painting was a larger canvas and was cropped. Vincent was influenced by the decorative patterns of Japanese woodblock prints and several of his canvases show this influence.

There are no known drawings for this painting, the artist considering it a study rather than a “finished” painting. His beloved brother Theo quickly recognised the painting’s masterly quality and submitted it to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in September 1889, writing to Vincent details of the exhibition: “[Your painting] strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life.” Vincent himself called the painting “…the lightning conductor for my illness”, because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint.

Each one of Van Gogh’s irises is unique and beautiful. He carefully studied the movements of the blooms and their baroque shapes to create a variety of curved silhouettes bounded by wavy, twisting, and curling lines. Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, show strong outlines, unusual angles, including close-up views and also flattish local colour (not modelled according to the fall of light). All of these features are found in this painting, which shows an exquisite blend of the oriental and occidental artistic traditions to create something vital, new and exciting to behold.

The painting’s first owner, French art critic (and anarchist!) Octave Mirbeau, and one of Van Gogh’s earliest supporters, wrote: “How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!” Mirbeau paid 300 francs for the painting. In 1987, it became the most expensive painting ever sold, setting a record, which stood for two and a half years. Then it was sold for US$53.9 million to Australian businessman Alan Bond, but he did not have enough money to pay for it. “Irises” was later re-sold in 1990 to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Irises is currently (as of 2010) tenth on the inflation-adjusted list of most expensive paintings ever sold, and in 25th place if the effects of inflation are ignored.


  1. Fascinating post! Have always loved his work. Thank you for sharing such an enlightening take on this wonderful masterpiece.

  2. I love Van Gogh's paintings and this is certainly one of my favorites. Thanks for the review, some of the things you mention I had no idea of!

  3. Interesting theory about Vincent being the victim of murder by young louts rather than the accepted version of how he committed suicide!

  4. That is sooooo beautiful!!!!!!

  5. Thanks for the information about the painting. Van Gogh made beautiful art.