Vincent van Gogh
(1853 - 1890)
Early in 1889 Van Gogh left his house in Arles and became an inmate of the hospital at St. Remy at the foot of the little range of hills called the Alpilles. Not much more than twelve months earlier he had moved from Paris to Arles, and during those months he painted like a man possessed. The southern sun not only gave him a new creative vigour but it also intensified the clouds on his palette. De la Faille's catalogue of his works lists more than tow hundred canvases - an average of four each week - painted between his arrival in Arles and his departure for St. Remy.
In the hospital at St. Remy, despite physical and mental exhaustion, there was no slackening of the creative tempo. His paintings in Arles had been full of the explosive radiance that everyone now recognizes as the mark of his genius. In St. Remy the explosions continued but the dynamic rhythm of his brushstroke became more turbulent. Partly the mountainous landscape itself was responsible for the change, but doubtless a certain lack of security at finding himself in an institution added a new restless intensity to his art during his first few months there.
It is to this period that some of his most glowing canvases belong. There were painted in the hot summer of 1889. As autumn passed and winter approached the same dynamic brushstroke continues but a more sinister note appears. It can be seen in The Ravine. The story of Van Gogh's life is too well known for even a brief outline to be needed here. During his lifetime he was ignored as an artist by everyone but his devote brother, Theo. Today we find no difficulty in recognizing and welcoming the passionate, colourful expression of a vision that no previous artist had been brave enough to attempt with such spontaneity. it was Van Gogh who made the word Expressionism a necessary addition tot he vocabulary of art criticism.
One thinks of Van Gogh primarily as a colourist, but even in his drawings there is the same muscular urgency. The short nervous strokes of the reed pen give to the best of his drawings not only a restless movement but also an illusion of colour. In June of 1888 he visited Les Saintes-Maries and for the first time saw the Mediterranean and was enchanted by the boats. "All along the flat, sandy shore," he wrote to his friend Emile Bonnard, "red and blue boats, so pretty in their form and colour that one was reminded of flowers." The same rhythm that his brush had discovered in the wind-blown cornfields of Provence were extracted by his pen from the breaking waves at Les Saintes-Maries. With wonderful skill he had used the diminishing thickness of the pen strokes ot suggest the distance between foreground and horizon, and has introduced a pattern of dots to indicate the texture of foam among the breakers.
|Return to Artists' Eyes||Return to Oxford Eye Page|