Saturday, 17 December 2011


“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing” - Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890) is one of my favourite painters. He was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. He was the son of a pastor and although he was brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. Between 1860 and 1880, when he finally decided to become an artist, van Gogh had had two unsuitable and unhappy liaisons and had worked unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in the Borinage (a dreary mining district in Belgium), where he was dismissed for overzealousness.

He remained in Belgium to study art, determined to give happiness by creating beauty. The works of his early Dutch period are sombre-toned, sharply lit, genre paintings of which the most famous is “The Potato Eaters” (1885). In that year van Gogh went to Antwerp where he discovered the works of Rubens and purchased many Japanese prints. In 1886 he went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.

His nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. He decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. Near the end of 1888, an incident led Gauguin to ultimately leave Arles. Van Gogh pursued him with an open cut-throat razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his own ear lobe off. This led to Vincent’ hospitalisation in Arles.

Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment. In May of 1890, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself “for the good of all”. During his brief artistic career he had sold only one painting. Van Gogh’s finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense colour, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. Van Gogh’s inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful, dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

In this painting, "Courtyard of Hospital in Arles", completed in 1889, Vincent depicts the courtyard of the Arles hospital in which he was confined after mutilating his ear. The artist made a drawing of the courtyard of the hospital in June 1889. The vantage point for the painting was his room within the hospital. Van Gogh’s description and his painting of the garden allow for identification of its flowers, such as: Blue bearded irises, forget-me-nots, oleander, pansies, primroses, and poppies. The original design of the courtyard as described by Van Gogh has been preserved. Radiating segments are surrounded by a “plante bande” now filled with irises. A difference between Van Gogh’s painting and the garden is that Van Gogh increased the size of the central fish pond for better compositional results. Adept at using colour to convey mood, the shades of blue and gold in the painting seem to suggest melancholy. The yellow, orange, red and green in the painting are not vivid shades seen in other work from Arles, such as “Bedroom in Arles”.

This is a painting by a man meditating on death and his colourful brushtrokes and vital composition is a last ditch attempt at clutching at life and using the beauty of the world around him to haul himself out of the black hole into which his mental state had made him descend into.

Please join me here on the Art Sunday meme if you have a post on Art in your blog.


  1. It is hard to believe that this vivid painting is the work of a man on the edge of sanity.

  2. Always good to refresh oneself on the work and biography of such a man. So much to learn from both.