Van Gogh Refresher in Amsterdam

A Van Gogh Refresher in Amsterdam

This trip to Amsterdam, I couldn’t wait to step inside the azure blue, cobalt blue and old gold within Van Gogh’s world of Irises and Sunflowers. I couldn’t partake on the first trip to the capital of the Netherlands, because that visit was a mere six-hour leg of a journey to somewhere else.

Although my husband and I are very practiced at packing a lot into a short visit to a city, we haven’t had to confess to all the involved travel-related requirements, such as landing, storing bags (carry-on, never checked) into airport lockers, catching a train to Centraal Station, and the return in its entirety.

Oh, and we also managed a canal boat tour, a walk through the Red Light District, and dodging speedy bicyclists in and around Old Town with its museums, coffee and cheese shops, almost all of them closed on an early, rainy Sunday morning.

But I digress…

Today, I immersed myself, for a few hours, into the late 19th Century art world at the Van Gogh Museum. I must give thanks, for the free passage, to an anonymous woman who, after overhearing me last week mention my upcoming trip, gave me a valid Museumkaart.

Some of the following pieces of information regarding Van Gogh and his world I already knew, some became familiar once again, having ~ at some time in the past ~ read, heard or learned (and forgotten,) and some are, to me, completely new. I reserve the right to be off a bit in my notes as this is not a test, but more like art appreciation.

This is what I know about Vincent Van Gogh:

~ Born March 30, 1853 and died July 29, 1890. Father (not Dad) a Pastor, strict and religious, and about keeping up social appearances. Many a disagreement, since Van Gogh was all about the peasants. Like Spingsteen, he saw the beauty in and supported the humble, honest, hard-working people.

~ In 1886, he was friends with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin and Emile Bernard in Paris. Montemarte, where the Moulin Rouge is located, was the artists’ area. {We’ve been there, sat in a cafe where they often gathered).

~ In 1888, he cut off his ear due to relationship troubles with Gaugin when he had visited Vincent for two months in Arles at the Yellow House, which Van Gogh had wanted to become an artists’ house for his friends. It turned out that only Gaugin ever went there. Gaugin and Van Gogh argued about art inspiration and creation.  For example, Gaugin was starting to use imagination to create the image to paint, whereas, Van Gogh was still using visual reality. Van Gogh chased Gaugin with a razor. Didn’t get him, but instead cut off his ear in confusion and frustration. On a happier note about Arles, this is where he painted “Sunflowers.”

~ “Sunflowers” has just three tints of yellow and fiver versions of the painting. The version that hangs in Amsterdam is dated 1889.

~ 1889 Van Gogh commited himself into a mental institution (St. Remy de Provence), where he painted an average of one work per day.  He painted by the window (he was not allowed outside the walls), or in the interior garden, or from copies (black and white prints he made from other artists’ works in the past).

~ 1890 Van Gogh shot himself in the chest and died two days later with Theo (his brother, benefactor and confidant) by his side. Theo died only six months later from complications due to syphilis.

~ Van Gogh collected dozens of birds’ nests. He saw birds as artists, because each nest was a work of art and different from every other.

~ He signed only the paintings he was satisfied with.

~ For one year, he only practiced his craft. He didn’t paint. He drew, because he felt that drawing was the base – all the rest came from that one skill.

~ The reason he did so many self portraits was as exercise for color, expression and brush stroke. The one, however, that was not just an exercise was “Self Portrait As A Painter.”

~ He was an emotional painter, but what surprises people, is that he was very methodic and ordered with his painting, not chaotic, as his surmised-nature would suggest.

~ Quote: “It’s only in front of the easel while painting that I feel a little of life.”

~ His portraiture work: he liked to paint the peasants – because they were the real people. He focused on their eyes (tired) and jaw (hard set, hard lines). They “…had the honest and humble existences in the face of the encroaching industrialization and urbanization.”

~ “The Potato Eaters” was his visiting card as a painter, but it was not as well received as he thought, so it was then that he took a year to practice or that he went to art school.

~ When he hit Paris, he loved the color palettes of the impressionistic artists and their brushstrokes. He liked Manet.

~ Van Gogh: “Color expresses something in itself.”

~ I had never seen a few pieces, such as “The Buddha” by Odilion Redon (1840 – 1916) who was influenced by Van Gogh. I’d also never seen Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots” 1890, his last work (contrary to some opinion). It’s colorful and almost Picasso-like. The lines and color suggest that he was a forerunner to abstract art. I’d never seen “Entrance to a Quarry,” which seems similar to looking beyond Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers.

~ And, finally, “Almond Blossoms,” 1890, is now my favorite, overtaking many years held in that position by “Sunflowers.”

Or “Irises”…

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