Van Gogh At Work

June 29, 2014

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I found this book while browsing the shelves at one of my local libraries. It was published in 2013 to accompany an exhibition at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The concept of the exhibition was to research the materials Vincent used, why he used them (e.g. availability, cost), in relation to how he developed his technique and style. It’s an interesting approach – the book is well illustrated and enjoyable as a traditional art book, but also packed with fascinating technical information.

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Above are two versions of the 1888 bedroom painting. The one on the left is how it appears today, with light blue walls; at the time however Vincent described the walls as being pale violet. The colour changed due to the fading of the cochineal red he used – the image on the right is a digital reconstruction of how the colour would have looked when fresh, based on a cross-section of a paint sample.

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In some of his formal studies at traditional academies he had drawn from plaster casts. He found this useful enough that he ended up owning about eleven by the time he was in Paris, seven of which have survived and are in the collection of the musuem. Here we see one of an écorché, (also known as a flayed man), along with a drawing and a painting made from it.

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Due to limited funds he would often do a new painting on top of an old one. The book has quite a few examples where X-radiography shows the earlier, covered over painting. Above, a still life of flowers painted on top of an academic study of wrestlers. In this case, as he often did, he changed the canvas orientation from horizontal to vertical.

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He had a box that contained sixteen balls of coloured wool which he used to try out colour combinations. Some of the balls were a single colour, while others combined two colours – sometimes complementaries, at other times two shades of the same colour. There are examples in the book of paintings whose colours match those of the wool, showing the direct use he made of this. It is not know when he started this or where he got the idea from, although it might have been from his time in Paris when he was mixing with the Neo-Impressionists.

Overall, I rate this book highly as being informative and enjoyable. It has 300 pages and hundreds of beautifully reproduced illustrations. There are many works by Vincent that I wasn’t familiar with along with the well known masterpieces.

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