Vincent van Gogh's Irises
My Irises and Those of Vincent van Gogh
As I look over my right shoulder as I’m typing this, out into my front garden, I see Vincent van Gogh’s irises — they’re my irises, Persian irises, but they look like the ones in van Gogh’s series of iris paintings.
My irises are in the top photograph to the right as you read this. Van Gogh’s Irises (1889) are below mine.
A reproduction of van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) is on the wall to my left. Reproductions of Sunflowers (1887) and Café Terrace at Night (1888) are on the wall opposite me.
Impressionism and Expressionism
When I wrote Impressionism vs. Expressionism, I asked my readers in a poll which style of painting they preferred. In their comments at the end of my article, I was asked which of the two styles of painting I liked best.
I replied that I preferred Post-Impressionism — the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and Paul Gauguin.
Impressionism flourished in France from 1867 to 1886. The Expressionist movement was found in both France and Germany from 1905 to 1925. The Post-Impressionist movement existed from approximately 1880 to 1900. It overlapped in the beginning with Impressionism and ended slightly before Expressionism began. Unlike Impressionism and Expressionism, Post-Impressionism wasn't associated with the artists of any one country.
What is Post-Impressionism?
Post-Impressionism is best described as an art movement rather than a school of art or a style of painting. Looking back on the period between Impressionism and Expressionism, art critics and art historians—after the fact—applied the term to the works of van Gogh, Cézanne, Gaugin, and others. All three artists began painting during the Impressionist period, but their work went in three different directions after this style of painting faded away. The paintings by van Gogh don’t resemble the paintings by Cézanne which don’t resemble the paintings by Gauguin.
Who was Vincent van Gogh?
Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, North Brabant, the Netherlands (Holland). He was the son of the Reverend Theodorus van Gogh, an evangelical Calvinist, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus,
Van Gogh began painting in 1880 at the age of 27. He painted for only ten years, until his untimely death in 1890.
Vincent van Gogh was a martyr who cared passionately about art and who devoted his life to it. He was a madman who spent much of the last years of his life in an insane asylum. (It was speculated many years after his death that van Gogh was not insane, but that he had epilepsy.)
Van Gogh was a failure who sold only one work during his lifetime. He was a man who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on July 29, 1890. Van Gogh was also a hero, an artist glorified by the high prices for which his paintings sold in the latter part of the 20th century.
Vincent van Gogh painted Sunflowers while in Paris in late summer of 1887. It's as if he were painting a group portrait of several people. Each flower is different, and each appears to me to have its own personality. The flower heads are faces. The petals are hair. The flowers connote strong sunlight, the countryside, the south of France. It's as though van Gogh wanted to be painting there rather than in Paris.
The brush strokes in Sunflowers are different from the ones in his earlier work. Van Gogh moved away from just using lines of colors, as he did in many of his 24 self-portraits. Instead, he used blotches and smears of color. The background has the appearance of a cross-hatched texture on a wall.
I enjoy looking at the reproduction I have of this painting.I like the variety of sunflowers van Gogh has portrayed, but at the same time, I don't think I like the personaities of some of the flowers.
Café Terrace at Night (1888)
Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles in the Provence region in the south of France in February 1888. He lives there until May 1889. During the 15 months van Gogh lived in Arles, he produced 200 paintings and more than 100 drawings.
I look at a reproduction of Café Terrace at Night (Place du Forum in Arles) several times each day. I want to be sitting at a table at that café with a friend...drinking...something. I don't care what—I just want to be at that café.
This work by van Gogh looks more like a drawing than the oil painting that it is, and there's good reason for that. Van Gogh didn't use a brush or a painting knife to produce Café Terrace—he used a Japanese reed pen...a drawing tool.
A reed pen is a hollow stick with a sharp point at one end. Van Gogh used the point to draw outlines with oil paint of the objects in his painting. He then used more of the surface of the reed pen as a brush—to fill in the outlines.
Vincent van Gogh had many emotional and psychological problems throughout his life. On May 8, 1889, less than six weeks after his 36th birthday, van Gogh checked himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 50 miles north of Arles.
Less than a week after entering the asylum, van Gogh painted Irises. He considered the painting to be a "study"—a sketch. He didn't think it was a full-fledged painting like his other works depicting flowers. The single white iris in the painting is thought by many art historians to represent van Gogh in his search for individuality.
Van Gogh called the painting a "study" because when he first arrived at the asylum, the only place in which he was allowed to work, to study life, was a small corner of the asylum's garden.
On November 11, 1987, Vincent van Gogh's Irises was sold in an auction at Sotheby's in New York City. The auction sale price, adjusted for 2012 dollars, was $107.2 million. The seller of the painting was the son of Joan Whitney Payson. The buyer was Alan Bond. Mr. Bond was unable to make all the payments on the painting, so it was resold to the Getty Museum. The sale price is not known, but it's thought to be less than the winning bid of $107.2 milliom.