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  • Writer's pictureUshrayinee

Vincent van Gogh’s Influences

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, whose paintings are known across the world. Everyone is familiar with his work in present times, though this was not the case for the most part when he was alive. While his work is highly sought after now, it went mostly underappreciated while the artist was alive. Out of the 900 paintings Vincent van Gogh created, he could only manage to sell one.

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh was an artist who had to fight both mental illness; bouts of psychosis and depression, and poverty, while he was alive. Despite it all though, this timeless artist managed to make some of the most well-known art pieces of all time.

Van Gogh’s ‘Yellow Period’

Color plays a huge role in Van Gogh’s work. To him, yellow was one of the most important colors, one that symbolized emotional truth. He used this bright color to represent sunlight, life, and God. One can see this color throughout his work, from the many still-life Sunflower paintings he painted, to the Night Café, and even to his last painting, Wheatfield with Crows.

Vincent van Gogh's Painting The Night Cafe

 Van Gogh was heard saying that color “has a psychological weight,” and one can see this throughout his work. Charles Blanc, a French art critic had written a treatise on color. He urged for the usage of complementary colors, and Van Gogh was influenced by this greatly. 

Initially, one can see that Van Gogh’s paintings are dark and muted. It was much unlike most impressionistic works and something that he was urged to change for many years. One such case is the painting The Potato Eaters, which his brother Theo criticized for the darkness in tone, saying that it was too moody and not modern enough. Later on, Van Gogh’s work takes on brighter tones, becoming the work that we so easily recognize today. 

The Quest for Spirituality in Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings

Van Gogh spent time as a missionary in southern Belgium for part of his life. On close observation, his connection to God shows throughout his work. The artist saw life and working under the sun as a Christian allegory, as evident in his painting The Sower. The Sower is the laborer who works hard under the sun, but he is also a representation of Christ, sowing life. 

Vincent van Gogh's Painting The Sower

Van Gogh had a strong connection to nature as well, and most of his work takes place in these natural settings. When he was in Arles his landscape paintings consisted of depicting rural life and the many aspects of it. The sun is a consistent image throughout his pieces though, bright and yellow, and ever-present.

The Influences of Japanese Art on Van Gogh

Another thing that Van Gogh was very interested in was Japanese art. Indeed, many of his flower paintings show references to Japanese ukiyo-e. It’s a genre of Japanese art that was seen through the 17th and 19th centuries. The reds and greens that he often uses are quite reminiscent of pieces of that style, and his Almond Blossoms piece is a callback to the Japanese style as well. 

Vincent van Gogh's Painting Almond Blossoms

Not many artists in the Netherlands were interested in Japanese art. However, when Van Gogh moved to Paris, he saw the craze around it that many artists fervently had. It was in Antwerp that Van Gogh bought his first stack of Japanese woodblock prints and pinned them to the wall. He started seeing them as a new and modern way to express himself artistically and began incorporating aspects in order to modernize his own art. 

Vincent Van Gogh then began to utilize the unusual spatial structure, the flat expanses, and the bright colors that are so common in the Japanese art style for himself. After his first mental health crisis that resulted in hospitalization though, Van Gogh started to refer to Japanese art less and less in his letters, moving away from it a little as he realized that it was perhaps too ambitious to modernize art through a Japanese lens.

Vincent van Gogh’s Timeless Tale of Art, Spirituality and Colors

Vincent van Gogh led a tumultuous life, one full of dark moments and crises, but he managed through it all to make some of the most beautiful art we’ve seen. Indeed, at the time it was believed that mental instability and good artmaking were connected, something that we now know to not be true at all. In fact, the artist made The Starry Night, a landscape art piece that is presently beloved by all, when he was recovering in the hospital from a mental break.

Vincent van Gogh's Painting The Starry Night

He was a complex man with complex influences, stemming from many elements in his life. His work remains some of the most well-recognized, and for good reason, the aspects of his work, such as the bright colors, and the swirling brushstrokes, remain unique and admired by all. Despite what he may have thought while he was alive, the name Vincent van Gogh will stay with us for centuries. The man’s last words after a possibly self-inflicted gunshot wound were, “The sadness is forever,” but his work is a testament to the timeless joy to be found in living.


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