Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Grootzundert, Netherlands. He was the son of a famous Protestant minister and had three brothers who ended as art dealers. Vincent led a relatively short life that was plagued by illness and mental breakdowns. In retrospect Vincent actually only produced art full time for around ten years. During his ten years he moved from the Netherlands and ended up in the south of France before eventually committing suicide at age thirty seven.
Van Gogh’s work is maybe best known for his use of color to express the whole painting instead of a person within the painting. His method was considered revolutionary at the time and created pieces that held intensity previously unknown to many in the western world. It is theorized he learned this technique and method from his brief stay at an art academy in Belgium, and from his experiences in France.
The first painting I will critique is titled; “A Lane Near Arles” which was painted in 1888. I actually really enjoy these types of scenery paintings which is what initially drew me to critique it. The painting is very bright and warming almost as if it was intended to give the viewer a feeling of coming home to a place you may not have seen before, but instantly feel welcome at. It seems warm, lush, and very relaxing as there isn’t a sight of any car, person, or building excluding the house. The painting reminds me of the kind of place where I visited in Australia called Apollo Bay which is about a two hours drive west of Melbourne.
The first major thing I notice is the warm colors presented throughout this piece. Even the water seems inviting because of the way the painting portrays a warm summers day. We see the green used to create a lush tone while a blue sky and possibly watering holes keep the feeling that it is day and a dip may be inviting. The dirt is a tan sand color which indicates that it may have been dry the day Van Gogh painted and the tree possibly gave him some relief from the sun with its full leaves and branches.
One thing that confuses me and stands out is that the tree trunk and part of the house are blue. I really can’t decipher why it would be painted in such a color, but it definitely makes that area in my opinion blend in. It almost takes my attention off of the tree trunk and focuses it on the tree foliage and the house. The foliage in the forefront tree is very lush and has a surprising amount of detail suggesting that it was added to create depth since the other tree’s are more bland and nonchalant. Overall, I would instantly hang this in my home regardless of who painted it.
The second painting I decided to critique is titled; “The Night Café” and was produced in 1888. This painting also drew me in because of its complex simplicity. By complex simplicity, I refer to the fact that it is a very simple scene with many small nuances occurring all around the viewer.
My sight first went to the man in the whitish sweater who appears to be staring right at me. It actually freaks me out and makes it seem as if he is staring into my soul. As I gaze around the room from there, I notice couple in front of him slumped over the table drinking their sorrows away. On the opposite side of the room is a lonely man sitting and also slumped over the table as if he is reminiscing about the couple behind him who appear to be having a good time.
The color selection actually reminds me of most bars in the sense that it is bright enough to be welcoming but dreary because in the end it’s still a bar. The floor really stands out as this bright oak color while the walls are a very deep red. As I gaze towards the light fixtures I immediately notice how bright they are and that they are almost blinding to look at. Finally, the ceiling is a light teal color which detracts from the view and keeps your eyes focused on the room.
The scene is the big draw in this painting in my opinion. I feel like the couple in back and the man staring at me don’t belong in this type of a picture. We have four different people in this tiny room ranging from happy (the couple) to lazy (the two men). My initial thought on the couple is that they are out on a date and decided to stop in for a few drinks and may some pool later in the evening. The man sitting alone may have recently broken up with his significant other and is have memories of their time together due to the happy couple seated directly behind him. Seated in the front right are two men who may have just gotten off work and decided to stop in for a drink and to perform the manly ritual of complaining about their day. They could in fact be regulars because of their relaxed demeanor. Finally, we come to the man who is standing and staring at me. I feel like he is asking me which of the groups I want to be. Do I want to be the happy couple? The two depressed men? Or full of regret over losing something that I may have loved. Then again, he may just be looking for someone to play pool with.
The final painting I decided to critique was titled, “The Café Terrace at Night” and was produced in 1888. This is yet another painting that I really enjoyed and thought would go well in my house. I’m sure it is well out of my price range due to the artist, but it brought back a lot of fond memories from traveling and sitting out late in Australia or Europe with my girlfriend as we had a late meal.
Immediately when I look at this picture my attention is attracted towards the people eating on the terrace. The terrace is brightly lit and packed full of patrons who the waiter is eagerly attending to. Outside of the terrace we see it is night time and people are heading in different directions. We’re not sure where they are going but we assume it could be to eat, to go home, or to take a stroll.
The detail in this painting is remarkable thanks to the cobblestone streets, ornate buildings, and use of dark and light colors to represent night but warm and welcoming buildings. One thing I noticed was that the people are not very detailed. This could be to keep the attention on the overall painting, but it did surprise me. Overall, I really enjoyed this piece and though the detail made it extraordinary.
After viewing three of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, I did start to see some similarities in what I viewed. The first similarity I saw was that Van Gogh seemed to include feeling and moods to every piece. In the first piece I felt like I was going to a welcoming home, in the second I felt as if it presented a moral dilemma, and finally in the third I felt like I was back in Europe out for a late dinner.
One other area that they were similar was in the way the each of them had some semblance of warmth and welcoming even if the greater picture was dark or dreary. I know Van Gogh went through many periods of mental illness, but maybe even through all of that he wanted to keep some bit of good in his work.
Some stark differences in my analysis included the type of painting he produced. Van Gogh didn’t seem to be limited to a certain style of painting. Instead he seems to have painted whatever caught his attention at the time. I find this rather interesting since it brings a level of sincerity to the work that maybe wouldn’t be found in someone who only did landscapes.
Van Gogh also never seems to have laid out a clear meaning behind his work. For example, I took the first painting I reviewed as warm and welcoming. Someone else may take it as abandoned and empty. The man in the second painting staring could also be greeting or just there for effect. My point is that these paintings seem to be more of a personal journey than an implied meaning.
Maybe that’s why Van Gogh was so popular. He let his audience decide what the paintings would mean and gave them little hints along the way. I know I appreciate his work more after doing this assignment and I can’t wait to see one in person someday.