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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I like the figurative work of the mid 20th century USA artist Richard Diebenkorn. These few are from the book called ‘Richard Diebenkorn, Figurative Works On Paper’. The monochrome ones are generally a mix of charcoal and ink and wash, while the colour ones are gouache and watercolour. They look loose, but there is years of study and training behind these.

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I’m not a Sidney Nolan fan, don’t like most of his work, particularly the Ned Kelly stuff (I’ve never understood why that is so highly thought of.) However flipping through a book of his drawings I found two that are very good. The book is called ‘Sidney Nolan Drawings’ and was published in 1989 by the Australian National Gallery (now called the NGA) in conjuncton with an exhibition.

Above is ‘Bushranger head with red mask’ from 1947, charcoal and enamel on paper. Below is a 1967 drawing made with wax crayon, brush and coloured inks. I have used this technique a few times. The wax crayon acts as a resist, the ink will sink into the paper but be repelled wherever the wax crayon has been drawn. It looks like he did the dark features of the head first with ink to get a good black, then drew the rest of the head with the crayons and then went over it with the ink. Great effect.

Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window, 1922

Some images from a wonderful book I found in the library – Henri Matisse: Rooms With A View by Shirley Neilsen Blum, published 2010 by Thames & Hudson.There are some beautiful masterpieces in this book that I had never seen before. The reproductions are excellent. What a great artist Matisse was; his style is deceptively simple, the composition and use of colour are superb.

Vase of Flowers, 1924

Studio Interior, 1903-04

Woman Before an Aquarium, 1921-23

Interior with a Goldfish Bowl, 1914

The Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916-17