Post Impressionism History

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While Impressionism had its beginnings in France, it was a British artist and art critic, Roger Fry, who named the Post-Impressionist movement as the development of art after Monet.  He coined this term after the Post-Impressionist artists were all dead so they remained unaware that they had inspired a true art movement.  Other than van Gogh, the artists were all French and most of them were previously Impressionist painters who had redefined their idea of what a painting should be.

Fry put on more than one Post-Impressionist exhibit in Britain, although the first was by far the most successful.  While the critics were not raving about the art, many were highly impressed.  These exhibits gained a large amount of publicity and they drew crowds because it was something to have so many works of Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh in Britain at the same time.

Post-Impressionism took up where Impressionism left off and, while it still was characterized by vivid colors, distinct brush strokes, a thick application of paint, and real-life, candid subject matter, these artists also tended to focus on geometric forms or to distort forms explicitly for the expression this enabled them to achieve.  Another characteristic of this movement was to use color in an unnatural manner.

The Post-Impressionists were well aware that they owed a great debt to the Impressionist style with its bold brush strokes, vivid use of color, and its act of breaking away from the traditional.  What the Post-Impressionists did was to make the art more personal, not to the viewers, but to themselves.  In other words, these were artists who were truly painting for themselves and not others, possibly for the first time in art history.

Post-Impressionists tended toward restoring structure to art, whereas in Impressionism the paintings were more trivial and unstructured.  Unlike the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists liked to paint alone.  The Impressionists tended to be more of a close-knit group and painted together often.  However, Post-Impressionists did exhibit work together.

Pointillism was one incredibly unique form of Post-Impressionism, introduced by Georges Seurat.  This form of painting consisted of using tine dots of color to create a piece.  Seurat was inspired by the new theories that light was made up of particles as well as waves and by the process through which we see color.  As a result he began painting by using tiny dots of intense color which would allow the mind of the individual viewing the painting to mix those colors.  This style of painting led to the creation of a new movement called Neo-Impressionism, founded by Seurat and Paul Signac.  Many did not favor their style, but it still inspired many.

As part of the Post-Impressionist movement, Paul Cezanne separated himself from the Impressionists with the aim of making paintings that were more solid.  He focused more on the underlying forms that created the objects he painted.  His work seemed to be a patchwork of color without much depth and with various planes in his work.  Cezanne seemed to ignore the laws of gravity in his work and it is this aspect in particular that greatly influenced Picasso and Braque when they created Cubanism.

In contrast, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin felt Impressionism was too objective and sought a more spiritual expression of themselves through their work.  They both had a life wrought with mental illness and were unsettled, which may be why they expressed the spiritual in their work.  They also both started painting later in life after pursuing other careers.  They were artists that truly painted what they felt, not what they saw.

Post-Impressionism laid the foundation for two later art movements, Cubism and Fauvism.  Cubism was a movement that depicted an object from more than one view point by breaking it up into pieces, analyzing it, and reassembling it in an abstract form.  Thus their art did not consist of the traditional one viewpoint and they often consisted of many right angles that overlapped without creating a particular sense of depth.  Fauvism was less abstract and focused on lines and brilliant color.  They often applied paint straight from the tube as they were more interested in spontaneity than in the finish of the work.  Both of these movements were short-lived but powerful in their influence.

Pre-Raphaelite History

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Properly known as The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this group of artists was founded in 1848 by the English painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, as well as the following poets and critics: William Michael Rossetti, an art critic and Dante’s younger brother; the art critic Frederic George Stephens; the painter James Collinson; and the sculptor and poet Thomas Woolner.

The group was formed in reaction to Victorian materialism and the stiff conventions of he Royal Academy and they were also particularly inspired by Medieval and Early Renaissance art, right up to and including the art of Raphael.  They wanted to go back to a style of art that took advantage of intense colors and was full of incredible detail.  They abhorred the Manneristic style and rebelled against it.

What distinguished Pre-Raphaelite art was the ability of the painters to portray archaic, romantic, and moralistic qualities in such a way as to mold them into a unique creation.  While their initial subject matter came from the bible, history, and poetry, they soon realized that their modern and real world surroundings gave them a rich tapestry of subjects with which to work.  Nature once again reigned supreme in the art world and they portrayed this just as passionately as they portrayed the historical themes.

The earliest doctrines of the Brotherhood were to have genuine ideas to express, to study nature attentively so as to know how to express it well, to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote, and, most important of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues.

The Brotherhood believed that every artist had within his grasp the freedom to create anything and that along with that freedom came a responsibility to express it well.  They created a name for themselves and they published a periodical called The Germ, which was used to promote their ideas and influence others.

The Brotherhood created an interesting mix of Realistic and Medieval art and although they were somewhat split down the middle on the issue, there was never much dissention and the Brotherhood stayed in tact.  This is primarily because, while many of the artists leaned one way or the other, they all believe that art was to be spiritual in nature and they all treated their art in this manner.  During this time, Hunt and Millais developed a unique technique that allowed them to capture a crystal-like quality in their paintings by applying multiple thin glazes of pigment of wet white background.  They were looking for a brilliance of color that opposed the use of bitumen used by earlier British artists to create areas of muddy darkness.

The Brotherhood was not well liked by everyone, despite the fact that they had enough of an impact to create their own movement in art history.  Many did not like their attention to detail and many thought their work blasphemous, especially Millais’ painting “Christ in the House of his Parents”.  Their saving grace was very likely the support they received from art critic John Ruskin, at a time when they were being publicly slandered.  This support came in the form of both finances and good critiques.
It wasn’t long after the controversy surrounding Millais’ painting that the group disbanded.  However, this was no the end of the movement ad there were a number of artist who were inspired by the Brotherhood.  These artists include John Brett, Philip Calderon, Arthur Hughes, Evelyn De Morgan, Frederic Sandys, and Ford Madox Brown.

Rossetti became the primary influence for the Medieval style of art and he became a partner in his friend Wiliam Morris’ firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., along with the artists Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones.  Through the firm, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhoods ideals were upheld and these ideals and the style were a major influence for interior designers and architects of the day.  Medieval designs were once again of interest.

Later, Hunt and Millais moved on to create art based on the scientific and realistic knowledge of the time.  The idea was to reconcile religion and science.  Later they each moved on.  However, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many British artists well into the 20th century.  This work even influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Later in the 20th century, art once again moved away from reality as the idea of abstract art came into prominence.  The detail of the Brotherhood was too intense for many critics and the idea of expressing oneself and one’s emotions through abstract art became important.  Despite this, it is quite an accomplishment for a movement that was so criticized and so short in terms of time to have been so strong and influential.

Realism History

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Realism was a movement that began in the mid 19th century and lasted until the end of that century.  It was sparked by the introduction of photography, the development of new technologies in architecture and design, and the new found interest and knowledge of the properties of light.

Realism was exactly as it sounds.  It was real.  It depicted life precisely as it existed without emotional embellishment or interpretation.  Romanticism was popular at the time Realism came into being and the Realist painters did not favor Romanticism at all.  In fact, it was the aim of Realist painters not to imitate past artistic accomplishments, but rather the use of nature and life as it truly is for all inspiration.  Art was to be the epitome of objective reality.

Realism was also born in an age of what is known as Positivism, a time of positive thinking in which human beings had an almost unshakable faith in knowledge and science and that these two things could work to cure al ailments and solve all human problems.  This is a far cry from times past when the church largely controlled the art establishment and encouraged faith in the divine rather than knowledge.

Of course, no painting can be completely true to life.  However, Realist painters tried their utmost to create paintings that were as true to life as possible.  There was no theatrical drama about a painting.  There were no classical themes or great subjects.  These paintings were about common life.  This style of painting is not new.  Many cultures around the world at different stages throughout history have dabbled in the realistic representation of their subjects.

Because the paintings of Realism were not embellished, they would not only portray what was considered beautiful.  It would also portray the plain and the ugly, just as they were.  Often times, Realism would capture the social conditions of society, and the work of some artists such as Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, and Jean François Millet had their work referred to as social realism.

Of course, the subjects of the Realist artists were the same as the subjects as the Romantic artists and other artists as well.  The difference was in how they were portrayed.  After all, the working class had been portrayed before, but never with such stark realism.  Realists tended to depict the actual lives, appearances, problems, customs or primarily the middle and lower classes.   They found the unexceptional, the ordinary, the humble, and the unadorned to be ideal for depiction in their art work.  It was once again a time of painting, not based on what the artist felt, but on what they actually saw.  However, these painting were still packed full of meaning, much more so than a simple portrait that was meant to merely capture an image.

Realism tended to be political statements in some countries.  In France it followed on the heals of the French Revolution of 1848 and it supported democracy.  In England, Realism was used to make a statement against Victorian materialism and the principles of the Royal Academy in London.  However, despite its social inclinations, Realism was almost completely centered on painting.  Otherwise, in construction, it was about mass production – creating a skeleton of something that could then be reproduced in large quantities.  Sound familiar?

There were three different schools of Realism painting.  The Realists were a group in Paris between the years of 1800 and 1899.  They truly focused on new scientific concepts of light and optical effects.  They were democratic and shunned the more traditional views of the world.  Artists included Marie Rosalie Bonheur, John Singleton Copley, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas, Thomas Eakins, Ignace Henri Theodore Fantin-Latour, Wilhelm Leibl, and Edouard Manet.

The second group was called the Barbizon School, and it was also centered in France in the 1840s and 1850s.  These were the nature and landscape artists who escaped from the depths of revolutionary Paris to create their art.  They inspired the love of visual reality and brought the reality of nature into the view of the art world in a fresh new way.  Artists included Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet, and Pierre-Etienne-Théodore Rousseau.

The third school was British and it went by the name of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and they existed from 1848 to the mid 1900s.  They held belief in the doctrine that the artist’s goal was to imitate nature and they believed the only truly great art was the art created before the time of Raphael.  They held high the accuracy and detail of their work and took a very moral approach to painting.

Realism was a time of integrating art with the world as we know it today, with science, materialism, and the stark reality of the modern life in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  It paved the way for other expressions of art that, although it did not necessarily capture life exactly as it was seen and experienced, continued to use form and line to create new expressions of the modern way of life.

Renaissance Art History

The home of the Renaissance was Italy, with its position of prominence on the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy was the commerce capital between Europe and Eurasia, during this time period, from 1400-1600, and it boasted a large number of wealthy families who were willing to pay for education.  Over all, the Renaissance art movement completely discredited the Middle Ages as being dead both intellectually and artistically, thus rendering the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic style art as being without value.

The Renaissance came from a revival of the Classical ideas, concepts, and knowledge.  What had once been forgotten was once again the focus of society.  It was also found that in Classical times artists enjoyed a much higher level of prestige than they did during the Middle Ages.  Artists wanted to enjoy this status once again.

The Renaissance took place over a long period of time.  Maybe this is an indication of its immense popularity both then and now.  However, the Italian Renaissance can be divided into three distinct periods known as Early, High, and Late respectively.  These stages were preceded by the Gothic art movement, which acted as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was followed by Mannerism, which bridged the gap between the Renaissance and the Baroque.  Mannerism hardly had an effect on the popular arts of the time and was not fit into the already neatly categorized art periods when historians looked back upon the era.

Early Renaissance art took up most of the 15th century and was characterized by inspiration from antiquity.  The movement was focused in Florence, Italy because this local had brought attention upon itself through various conflicts within the church and with its neighbors.  The art form focused on the human body, space, and the laws of proportion when it came to architecture.  The belief was that progress and development were the backbone of the evolution and survival of art.  The primary painter of the time was Masaccio.  His work was religious in nature and his inspiration came not from other painters, but from the sculptor Donatello and the architect Brunelleschi.

High Renaissance art was characterized by creating physical presence, drama, and balance than on the behavior and personality that were the focus of Early Renaissance art.  The major painters of the time were numerous.  There was Leonardo Da Vinci, Donato, Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.  This period was short lived, lasting from about 1495-1520 and served as a transitional period between Early and Late Renaissance.  However, although brief, the art that flowed from this period was exceptional and some of the most famous artists ever produced work during this time.  After all, these artists had such a command over their talents that they were able to produce any natural effect they desired and they had an intellect that allowed for balance and harmony along with fine detail.

The Late Renaissance began with the sack of Rome in 1527.  Artists had to scramble to relocate throughout Italy, France, and Spain.  This period led to what is now called Mannerism.  Mannerism artists turned to producing paintings of people, often nudes, that were portrayed in strange poses and looking somewhat grotesque while odd themes were used and emotion looked horrifying.  Michelangelo was the only painter from the High Renaissance to make into the Late period.

The Renaissance movement ushered in the use of oil paints.  This was a boon to artists as, due to the slow drying time of oil paints, they could edit their paintings, making adjustments over a period of months.  They could now focus more on the quality of light on their paintings and were also more in tune with the architectural accuracy of the buildings in the background of their work.  Themes centered on Greek and Roman mythology as well as Biblical characters and the Madonna was a pre-eminent figure.  When it came to depictions of the human body, emphasis was often put on the nude form and the perfection of the body.

Another important result of the Renaissance was that painters began to communicate more with poets, essayists, philosophers, and scientists.  The boundaries between these disciplines began to blur and they began to share ideas with one another and recognized one another for the visionaries they truly were.

Over all, the Renaissance produced some of the most well known art ever created in human history.  It was a time of revival, of going back to something form the past that worked and bringing that past into new light.  After more than 500 years we still marvel at the works of artists such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo.  This period was unique in its portrayal of the human body and in its enmeshment of art and science.  It was proof that the old and the new can come together in harmony.

Romanticism Art History

Romanticism is an interesting name for an art movement that corresponded with the Industrial Revolution.  However, this movement was a time of exciting changes in the world of art as it was in the rest of the world.  It began at the end of the 18th century and it became the voice of the revolution in the early 19th century.  It was still alive at the end of the 19th century at a time in which it was to help establish the modern era of the 20th century.

What made Romanticism so great?  There were so many aspects to Romanticism, but one of the greatest inspirations for it was the common folk.  Through the local folklore and stories of the common people, artists endeavored to capture that which had not been captured before.  They considered the inspirations from these people to be spontaneous and from their very souls, which made the art incredibly meaningful in a unique way.  No coincidentally, this was a time when these artists had as inspiration the likes of William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  From the theater to philosophical writings, the Romantic artist had plenty to choose from in his own era.

In contrast to this peasant connection was the fact that, with the merchant class citizen coming into his own and the wealth of this class available, no longer did artists have to rely on the church or the aristocrats to be paid for their work.  They could be commissioned by anyone who had the money to pay for their talents and the merchant class wanted to support fresh new ideas.  Many new artists were able to expose the world to their raw and unique talents and styles.

Of course, religion has nearly always played a significant role in the world of art, but this role changed dramatically in the Romantic period.  No longer were artists as pious in their representation of the church and religion.  During this period, they portrayed religion in much the same way as the Classicists portrayed mythology and legend.  It was almost as if they didn’t believe in it any more.  This attitude was still mixed with a fascination for the subject.  Of course, this was not to say that mythology did not have a place in the Romantic period.  There were still a large number of artists who reveled in creating works around medieval creatures such as Faeries, witches, and angels.

Nationalism had taken over in the sense that from country to country the styles and the particular flavor if the art varied to a great extent.  Even thought the general movement took place at the same time all over Europe and the United States, the art was dramatically different in each place.  However, one of the most common themes was that man was born “good”.  This is in sharp contrast to the religious influence of previous eras that expressed that man was born “bad” and was guided to goodness by the church and society.  In Romanticism, man was corrupted by society rather than saved by it.

Romantic artists were able to travel far more than their predecessors so they were able to see first-hand the subjects of their work.  They were no longer bound to imagine simply based upon what they read in a book.  They traveled extensively and often women of these lands were depicted as they appeared more exotic than the women that resided at home.

Nature also paid an immensely important role in Romantic art.  From the rugged landscape of north-eastern United States to the picturesque landscapes of England to the symbolic landscape of Germany nature was a powerful and influential force in the artists mind and soul.  Sometimes the violent and unpredictable side of nature was portrayed.  The early part of the Romantic period in France overlapped with the Napoleonic Wars, and so this event inspired many of the artists during this crucial time.

Romantic artists include John William Waterhouse, who took as his inspiration the figures, particularly heroines, from the literary works of the time and of times past such as the Lady of Shallot and Ophelia.  Piotr Michałowski was a highly exceptional portrait artist.  Caspar David Friedrich was famous for his paintings of religious mysticism.  These paintings were not always obvious, but they generally had some meaning that centered on the fall of pre-Christian religion and the rise of Christianity.  He often obscured Christian representation in favor of the pre-Christian themes.

Romanticism was all about emotional intensity and expression, not necessarily about the specific style.  Thus it was the obvious predecessor to the Expressionist and Abstract Expressionist movements as well as almost all of the 20th century art movements, which were also a deviation from style in favor of a more emotionally intense creation.  It was represented not only by the paintings that emerged from this period, but also by literature, poetry, and theatre.

Surrealism History

Surrealist thought began in 1920 and at its roots it was about freeing the expression of the unconscious.  Surrealism has been defined in two ways in poet Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto of 1924:

  • Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought.  Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation (later qualified by Breton, saying “in the absence of conscious moral or aesthetic self-censorship”).
  • Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.

Due to the fact that World War I loomed large during this movement, Surrealists were influenced by it.  The feeling was that the rational thinking of the Industrial Revolution was the cause of the war and the antidote to such thinking and their obvious results was to turn to the irrational and the dream-state.  Thus, the art during this time period is portrayed as such, with the use of a restrictive overlay of false rationality, which included social and academic convention, on the free-functioning of the instinctual urges of the human mind.

The Surrealists took to the theories of Sigmund Freud, specifically his ideas on unconscious thought and how it influences human behavior.   Freud promoted the idea that free association and dream analysis and believed these would work to reveal unconscious thought.  Surrealism was also heavily influenced by the Dada.  It may even be considered an extension or offshoot of this group.  This was a group that was not about art.  It was about anti-art and they sought to protest the barbarism of war.  Everything art was, the Dada was not.  If they felt that art was to have meaning, they would strive to express no meaning through their work.  Where art was meant to be appealing, they worked to offend.  They were the truly rebellious group and they had something that appealed to the Surrealists.  Other influences for the Surrealist artists were G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx.

Despite these seemingly serious influences, Surrealist artists also drew on many diverse sources for inspiration.  These include Clark Ashton Smith, Montague Summers, Horace Walpole, Fantomas, The Residents, Bugs Bunny, comic strips, the obscure poet Samuel Greenberg, and the hobo writer and humorist T-Bone Slim.  Non-western cultures were also an inspiration to Surrealists because it was believed that these cultures had been able to find a better balance reason and imagination than those of the western world.

Surreal artists were not consistent when it came to politics.  In some areas of the world they were simply concerned with their art while in others politics and political messages were their main goal.  Then there were those that strove to integrate the two.  When they were political, they were extremely left-wing and they even bordered on communist.  It is clear that the Surrealists did not merely consider themselves to be artists, but that this was a truly revolutionary movement.

Surrealism had a far reaching effect on the world, particularly in politics.  Some Surrealists actually joined radical political groups, movements, and parties while others influenced people solely through the impact of their art, which encouraged the freedom of the imagination and the liberation from repressive and archaic social structures.

Salvador Dali was the painter who brought the Surrealist movement to the canvass in the 1920s and 1930s, although he did not remain a member of the group as he had arguments with Breton and was ultimately kicked out.  He went on to create his very famous dreamscapes and dream-like images.  Like Dali, other Surrealist artists captured the dream-like state using a lot of content and technique.  They celebrated the art of children and they also celebrated primitive art because they felt that the untrained eye was better able to put their imagination onto the canvass because they were more liberated.  These were often incorporated into their own work.

Unfortunately, all were not happy with the Surreal movement.  Feminists felt that it was a male dominated movement and that they expressed stereotypical attitudes toward women.  As for Freud, he was more interested in the Surrealists conscious mind despite the fact that he was their main inspiration for delving into the subconscious.  Surrealism had a significant influence on Abstract Expressionism and Magic Realism.  One of the major attractions of Surrealist artists is that they managed to keep the content of their paintings expressive and alive, giving an alternative to the geometric shapes used in art so freely during the 20th century.

Vincent Van Gogh – Paintings of Sunflowers

Of Vincent Van Gogh’s many series of paintings and periods in his career, his most famous is arguable that of the Sunflowers. Paintings of sunflowers have become synonymous with Van Gogh and his work in the latter part of his life. Many artists have tried to duplicate his technique over the years with originals and copies of the fabled flowers adorning galleries, offices and homes around the world.

The Sunflower series began in the years Van Gogh spent seeking his place in the artistic world in France. The first few paintings were created with the sole purpose of decorating Paul Gauguin’s home. Despite the volume of work in the series, most of the Sunflowers paintings were composed between 1888 and 1889 during Van Gogh’s time spent in Arles. The earliest works were created in Paris in 1887, where Van Gogh painted sunflowers with single flowers and clips rather than in vases.


Sunflowers – 1887

What makes the sunflower images so unique in contrast to any of his other paintings or those of other painters is the incredible attention to the aesthetics of the flower rather than the physical details. Van Gogh’s own use of yellow in the latter part of his life is most intensively accentuated in these images. However, through Van Gogh’s still lifes of Sunflowers, he also displayed the images of death through browns and then combined and contrasted the two, pitting vibrant life against dry and brittle death. Through the simple painting of flowers in still life, Van Gogh was able to describe and explore all the intricate aspects of both life and death and their relation to each other.

It is the use of balance and control of the observer’s eye, so deftly utilized in many of his paintings, that makes the Sunflower series so unique. By creating a careful balance not only in tonal range but in composition and in theme with life and death, yet drawing the viewers eyes to numerous locations, Van Gogh is able to entrance his admirers with such vibrant paintings of simple flowers.


Sunflowers – 1888

Many of the pictures in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers series are almost identical with the exception of a few small details. The layout and positioning of the flowers is often identical or very similar to any of a number of other paintings. If one were to combine two of them, they might find only superficial differences.

For example, common differences included the varying petal composition in each painting. Some paintings contained larger, bulkier petals than others, while others shaped intricate “V” patterns. The eye of each flower would occasionally differ in color as well. While one might display the yellow tints of life, another might contain the traditional black of a dying sunflower. The same technique was used for leaves. Occasionally, the only difference between one painting and the next might be that one displayed the petals as a vibrant yellow and the next with a tinge of wilting brown.

Ironically, the composition of Van Go’s sunflowers, so dependent on his use of color, might not have been possible only a century earlier. Because of the development of new paints and new colors in those paints, Van Gogh was able to utilize pigments such as Chrome Yellow that few other painters had ever had access to.

Vincent Van Gogh – Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night is one of the most discussed and influential pieces of artwork ever created. During his life time, Van Gogh painted for only a short time but was very prolific in those few years. As far as oil paintings are concerned, Starry Night has become as important in popular culture as any of the greatest songs and films of our generation. Painted while staying in the Saint-Remy Asylum in June of 1889, Starry Night has no directly known source and was actually painted in response to at least one earlier work that Van Gogh worked on, Starry Night on the Rhone. In fact, there were numerous Starry Nights painted by Van Gogh, each depicting slightly different scenes and representing different periods in his artistic progression.

Some Basic Analysis of Starry Night – by Vincent Van Gogh

 Starry Night

The Starry Night – 1889

Van Gogh’s Starry Night is a unique painting for numerous reasons. Composed in slight contrast to the impressionist style of the 19th century, Van Gogh’s work is an exaggerated, surreal work that is at equal measures relaxing and intriguing. The painting itself depicts a collection of lightly swirled clouds and overwhelming, blazing stars in the sky. Everything is larger than life and the sky appears more like a frothy ocean than the heavens at night .The curves and pinpoint location of each star forces the observer’s eyes to move about the painting as much as possible.

Directly below the sky is a small town, composed of darkened colors and brightly lit window spaces, creating a sense of wonder emanating from each window. The steeple of the church acts as a binding force, representing stability and centrality for the town. On the far left side of the painting is the curvy, unknown structure that has intrigued scholars for decades. Painted in the same manner as the sky with curving, flowing lines, the structure could be anything from a tree to a mountain. Much has been made of the colors used in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, especially the heavy use of yellow that permeated much of his later work. Theories including lead poisoning and certain brain diseases have been postulated as reasons for his odd color selections late in life.

Starry Night – History and Possible Meaning

There have been numerous possible interpretations of Van Gogh’s purpose in painting Starry Night. Many have cited Van Gogh’s desire to dedicate his life to helping the poor and spreading religious messages. The eleven stars in the sky are possibly related to a direct quote from the bible in Genesis and the church spire a binding force for that quotation.

Van Gogh himself related many words about his work to his brother Theo in his letters. Specific Van Gogh quotes on Starry Night have described the painting as having “lines [that] are warped as that of old wood” and “exaggerations from the point of view of arrangement”. He was possibly unhappy with how the painting turned out though the overall effect was more confounding to him than disappointing.

As for the opinions of others, Starry Night was not immediately recognized as the masterpiece it is today, as was the case with almost all of his work. Early Starry Night critiques had trouble placing the painting into any of the existing arenas of style and method. However, in the early 20th century, much of Van Gogh’s work received careful attention from a new generation of painters, the post-impressionists.

Starry Night over the Rhone – by Vincent Van Gogh (also known as Starlight over the Rhone)

Starry Night over the Rhone

Starry Night over the Rhone – 1888

The version of Starry Night that so many have seen and know is not the only version of the painting created by Van Gogh in his life time. Another painting which he was very proud of was the Starry Night over the Rhone variation, painted in Arles in 1888. The painting is very similar to its more famous brethren in that it also contains large, glowing orbs in the sky, numerous light points to keep the eye moving about the painting and darkened structures glowing behind the light of the stars.

However, Starry Night over the Rhone also contains humans, a feature that the former does not. A couple is walking together in the bottom right corner of the painting, placing the human and romantic element rather than the religious into context with the rest of the imagery. The Starry Night over the Rhone’s setting is also a recognizable space, captured by Van Gogh while in Arles and overlooking the Rhone while Starry Night was painted from memory, depicting a location that has yet to be discerned.

Popular Culture

Starry Night has been an enduring image in the cultural progression of Western society for more than a century.

As one of the most reproduced paintings on earth, it has been viewed and can be recognized by billions of individuals the world over. One of the more interesting additions to the cultural impact of the painting is Don McClean’s song about Van Gogh, Starry, Starry Night, a song that parallels his life and work with lines like “Starry, Starry Night. Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.” The song goes on to describe numerous other paintings by Van Gogh and their effect on how we view art today.

The Pollarded Willow and Setting Sun and Other Landscapes of Vincent Van Gogh

During Vincent Van Gogh’s lifespan, numerous paintings depicting the scene just outside of a window to his studio were created. An early example and a painting made most famous by its theft in 1999 is “The Pollard Willow” originally finished in 1885 before Van Gogh left his birthplace and home in the Netherlands for France.

The painting, depicting a row of pollard willows in autumn lining a dirt road opposite of a barely visible brick wall was stolen and thought lost for seven years before being found in March of 2006. The painting is a major step in Van Gogh’s progression as an artist as can be seen in his later works painted in the home he shared with Guaguin in Arles and during his stint in Saint-Remy.

The Pollarded Willow and Setting Sun, painted in 1888, during the final months of Van Gogh’s stay in Arles, currently sits in the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. During the final months spent with Gaugin in Arles, Van Gogh had begun to rethink his approach to Impressionism, still utilizing similar techniques but creating series of paintings similar to those painted in Nuenen before he left the Netherlands.

After leaving Arles in 1889, Van Gogh committed himself to the Saint-Remy-de-Provence Asylum where he painted many of his most prolific masterpieces. While paintings such as Starry Night were painted largely from memory, consisting of swirls and circular patterns, he began a series of paintings reminiscent of those he worked on in Arles depicting the wheat field visible from Van Gogh’s window in the Asylum.

The field was enclosed by the walls of the asylum, on the opposite side of which rose a small hill and farmlands with olive groves and Van Gogh’s cypresses. During Van Gogh’s eleven month stay between June of 1889 and May of 1890, he recorded the same scene numerous times. His images included paintings of the field after a storm in Wheat Field under Threatening Skies, with a reaper, and with corn freshly grown in the fall. Images such as Wheat Field at Sunrise and White Field with Cypress by Vincent Van Gogh are considered masterpieces and have been used in popular culture repeatedly. Tom Cruise’s mind bending Vanilla Sky uses Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, Yellow Wheat and Cypress as a device not only for the naming of the film but for the impressionist aspects of the plot.

Even after leaving Saint-Remy, Van Gogh continued to paint similar pieces depicting wheat fields and trees. Van Gogh’s painting of crows, Wheat Field with Crows, painted in Auvers-sur-Oise was one of the final pieces completed before taking his own life. The painting famously depicts a flock of crows rising into the night sky from a brightly lit field. The contrast of light and dark and the ascension of such a malicious cloud is a suitable conveyance of Van Gogh’s ever shifting moods during this time period. Repeatedly, Van Gogh quoted his use of trees and fields as an extension of his study of life, as displayed in his famous Sunflowers series.

A Biographical Timeline of Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van gogh was born in 1853 in Groot-Zundert to Anna Cornelia Carbentus and Theodorus van Gogh, a local minister. Born in the Netherlands, The nationality of the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh and his native language were Dutch, but he would later go on to learn English, French and German and spend much of his time in France. Named for his grandfather and his still-born older brother, there have been numerous theories about the possible effects of having been named after a dead older sibling, citing his depictions of male figures in pairs. Three of Van Gogh’s uncles were art dealers and his great uncle was a sculptor. Vincent Van Gogh’s timeline is well documented, mostly in thanks to the correspondence he carried on with his brother Theo throughout his lifetime, revealing most of the facts known know about his life.

Facts about Vincent Van Gogh’s Childhood

Vincent Van Gogh’s younger brother Theo was born in May of 1857 followed by his brother Cor and sisters, Elizabeth, Anna and Wil. Van Gogh’s schooling as a child was maintained by a Catholic school teacher in Zundert, followed by 3 years of home schooling by a Governess and the attendance of boarding schools in Zevenbergen and Tilburg in the Netherlands. While attending Middle School in Tilburg, Van Gogh learned to draw from an accomplished Parisian artist. Van Gogh has been quoted as having a “gloomy and cold” childhood and eventually returned home in 1868 from boarding school.

History of Vincent Van Gogh’s Early Employment

At the age of fifteen Van Gogh began working for an art dealer in The Hague through his Uncle Vincent. After four years of training, Vincent was moved to London where he was financially successful and happy. After falling in love with his landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer, Vincent was rejected and subsequently heartbroken. After this encounter, Van Gogh turned to religion and isolated himself. After being sent to Paris to work for a different art dealer, Van Gogh became bitter at how the French treated art and was terminated from his employment in 1876.

After losing his job, Van Gogh decided to become an assistant to an English Methodist minister. After moving back home later that year before Christmas, Van Gogh spent six months working in a nearby bookstore, translating Bible passages into many of the languages of Van Gogh’s schooling; English, French and German. In 1877, Van Gogh’s father sent Vincent to Amsterdam to stay with his uncle, an Admiral in the Navy. He studied theology to enter the University there but later failed in his endeavor, abandoning his desire to return to school. After leaving his uncle’s house in 1878, Van Gogh failed another course in Missionary School.

Van Gogh received a post as a missionary in Petit Wasmes in January of 1879, a small town in Belgium. During his stay with the poor that he ministered to, Van Gogh slept on straw and lived in squalor. Despite his desire to live in similar conditions, the church looked down on his decisions. After arguing with his parents about returning home, Van Gogh and his father became increasingly unhappy with each other, with the older Van Gogh declaring at one time that he would commit his son to an asylum.

After a year of drifting and arguing with his family, Van Gogh’s brother Theo was able to convince him to take up art full time in the fall of 1880. It was then that Willem Roelofs, a recommended Dutch Artist convinced Vincent to attend the Royal Academy of Art. Van Gogh studied anatomy, perspective and modeling while there.

Returned to Etten – The First of Van Gogh’s Various Controversies

After completing a short stint in the Academy, Van Gogh returned to Etten where his parents lived. During this short stint, he fell in love with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos Stricker. Vehemently denying his advances, Vos Stricker, who was seven years older than Van Gogh and had an eight year old child, proved to be a major blow for Van Gogh. Despite her refusals, Vincent repeatedly appealed to her father, receiving angry denials again and again. At one point, he held his hand over an open flame, requesting to speak with her for as long as he could keep his hand in the flame. Nothing came of his persistence though as Von Stricker did not believe Van Gogh could support himself or his daughter financially.

Van Gogh Visits The Hague

The entire situation left Van Gogh feeling betrayed and sickened by the hypocrisy of his uncle and his father and after turning down an offer of money from his father, Vincent prepared to leave for The Hague. In 1882, Van Gogh moved to The Hague and started studying art with his cousin, Anton Mauve. The two worked together only for a short time though as Mauve soon stopped responding to Van Gogh’s letters.

Part of Mauve’s coldness might be related to Van Gogh’s first of many sordid love affairs, this one with Clasina Maria Hoornik (Sien), a local prostitute. After he moved into an apartment with Sien and her five year old daughter, Van Gogh’s family became extremely unhappy with the coupling and though Sien was pregnant, Van Gogh’s father urged him to leave her.

Van Gogh was commissioned by his uncle, Cornelius Marinus van Gogh, to draw twelve views of the city during this time. His uncle, not fully satisfied with the drawings commissioned Van Gogh to paint six more, more detailed than the previous twelve. After completing the first batch of drawings in May of that year, Vincent was admitted to the hospital with Gonorrhea for three weeks. After returning, Van Gogh begins working with oil paints and lithography, and moves Sien and the children into a larger apartment.

In 1883, Van Gogh makes the decision to break up with Sien and leaves her with the new born Willem and her daughter. Van Gogh reported to his brother that the situation had become too hard and it is thought that Sien might have returned to prostitution to make up for the lack of income, putting increased strain on the family. Sien told her youngest child later in life that he is the son of a painter named Vincent Van Gogh, though the timing makes this unlikely. She eventually committed suicide in 1904, drowning herself in a river.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Return to Nuenen

Van Gogh moved to Drenthe, followed by Nieuw Amsterdam, soon followed by a return to his parents’ home in Nuenen by the end of 1883. While in Nuenen, Van Gogh devoted large amounts of time to sketching cottages and local peasants. In 1884, Van Gogh embroiled himself in another controversy, this time in an affair with Margot Begemann, a woman 10 years older than him. She fell deeply in love with him and the two planned to marry. However, their families disapproved and soon afterward Margot attempted suicide.

Following the end of their relationship and Margot’s narrow survival, Van Gogh’s father died of a stroke, on March 26, 1885. After a long period of grieving, Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, his first undisputed masterpiece, and was given his first chance to show his work, with interest rising in Paris and in The Hague. However, another controversy found him in September of that year when a sitter became pregnant and he was forbidden from using anymore villagers to model in his paintings.

Van Gogh’s time in Nuenen is marked by his use of earth colors, dark and lacking the tones of later life. Theo himself replied to Van Gogh’s complaints about his paintings not selling that they were too dark and not in the current style of Impressionism and bright colors.

The Paris Years

In 1886, Van Gogh left his home in Nuenen and entered the Academy of Art in Antwerp to improve his technique. Using live models during the evenings, Vincent developed much of his style in the realm of figures and live paintings. After a couple of short months at the Acaedmy, Vincent left for Paris where his brother Theo was working as an art dealer, selling Impressionist paintings. Vincent moved in with his brother and began studying the impressionist styles of Paris during that time. Almost immediately, he begins utilizing more colorful palettes, the hallmark of most of his greater works. Because Vincent lived with his brother Theo at 54 Rue Lepic, little is known about his life during the years spent in Paris. There were few letters written.

During this time, major impressionist exhibitions were done in Paris and Van Gogh was greatly affected. However, soon he felt that Paris had worn him out and after meeting Paul Gauguin and displaying his own work in numerous exhibits, he decided to leave the city for a less busy lifestyle.

More Trouble Arises in Arles for Van Gogh

In 1888, Van Gogh departed Paris and arrived in Arles where he immediately took up the painting of various landscapes. His life in Arles was remarkably less exotic than in Paris and with the exception of a legal dispute over the cost of his hotel in the first months of his stay there, Van Gogh was relatively free of controversy at first. He eventually sorted out the cost of living and moved into the Yellow House where Gauguin joined him. Prompted by Gauguin, Van Gogh began experimenting with various forms of painting. It is in Arles that Van Gogh painted many of his Sunflowers as well as experimented with painting from memory.

The two quickly began to quarrel though, constantly disagreeing about art and on December 23, 1888, only 4 months after Gauguin had moved in, Van Gogh approached him with a razor blade in hand. Cutting off the lower part of his ear, Van Gogh then wrapped up the mutilated ear and gave it to a local prostitute named Rachel and asked her to “keep this object carefully”. Gauguin immediately left after informing Theo of the incident and Van Gogh spent numerous days in the hospital recovering. Gauguin would never see Van Gogh again.

Vincent Van Gogh at Saint-Remy Hospital

Van Gogh did return to the Yellow House, but after a month of hallucinations, mad ravings and paranoia, local citizens petitioned to have him removed from the house, fearing Van Gogh to be completely insane. Later, on May 8, 1889, Van Gogh had himself committed to the asylum in Saint Remy. Immediately they diagnose him with epilepsy. Given two small rooms, one to live in and one to paint in, Van Gogh begins painting the gardens and surrounding areas of the asylum. While in the asylum, numerous examples of Van Gogh’s work were exhibited in Paris. However, upon leaving the asylum to attend an exhibit, Vincent had a relapse and returned once more. Later, another two day trip to Arles resulted in a similar attack. During his stay in Saint-Remy, van Gogh painted hundreds of paintings, including his famed Starry Night, the numerous paintings of the Wheat Field and hills outside his window, and a selection of self-portraits.

On May 16, 1890, despite numerous relapses, Van Gogh left the asylum and visited his brother Theo. After spending a few days with them, he moved to Auvers and stayed with Dr. Paul Ferdinand Gachet, the subject of the twin portraits by Van Gogh. However, Van Gogh’s depression became too much to bear and on July 27th, 1890, he walked into a field and shot himself in the chest. The shot does not immediately kill him however as he stumbled back to his inn. Two days later however, with Theo by his side, he succumbed to the gunshot wound and died. Vincent Van Gogh’s grave is located today in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Theories Regarding Vincent Van Gogh’s Mental Illness

Throughout his lifetime, Van Gogh was stricken with medical problems, most pointedly his mental instability. Despite his most famous stint in the hospital following the removal of his ear in 1888, Van Gogh is thought to have any number of possible diseases with hundreds of psychiatrists offering more than 30 different possible diagnoses in 117 years since his death. Largely agreed to have suffered from debilitating bouts of depression, Vincent Van Gogh was also known for his manic episodes, reacting violently with self-mutilation.

Possible problems he might have suffered from include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, lead poisoning (from his paints), epilepsy, and porphyria. Combine any of these possible illnesses with his poor diet, constant work and dependence on alcohol and absinthe, and all of his symptoms could be accounted for.

Further medical study has been made of his constant use of the color yellow in his work. In particular, it has been found that overuse of Absinthe can result in xanthopsia, a condition that forces one to see all things in yellow. Another theory is that Dr. Gachet prescribed digitalis, supported by the Foxglove plant the doctor is holding in his portrait, the source of digitalis. Digitalis is known to cause a yellow tint in vision or even yellow spots similar to the stars in his night time paintings. Possible lead poisoning would have led to retina swelling as well which could account for Van Gogh’s halo affected images.

Van Gogh’s Work Today

The cost for original artwork by Vincent Van Gogh is known today as the highest among almost all artwork. The most expensive Vincent Van Gogh painting sold to date is the Portrait of Dr. Gachet which sold for $82.5 million in 1990. His work exists today in galleries all over the world, including The Hermitage, the MET, and dozens more. Valuing the cost of authentic artwork by Vincent Van Gogh has become increasingly difficult in recent years because of the ever growing price for which his work sells.

In 1999, one of Vincent van Gogh’s Pollarded Willow paintings was stolen. Miraculously, the painting was recovered in 2006, unharmed and returned to its home in Den Bosch at the F. van Lanschot Bankiers Headquarters. Surely, Van Gogh’s images are some of the most sought.