Who ARTed Podcast

This Week's Episode - Vincent van Gogh

In this episode, I continued my discussion with Chuck Hoff about Vincent van Gogh. We covered the later part of his life and career after he moved to France. The painting we specifically focused our attention on was The Starry Night from 1889. During the episode, we also briefly discussed The Night Cafe and Starry Night Over the Rhone.

1886 Vincent van Gogh moved to Paris and lived with Theo. This is where his work started to become much more colorful. While still continuing his studies in Paris, he is getting to know other artists like Emile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.

Theo found living with Vincent to be unbearable and in 1887, Vincent moved to a suburb where he got to know the pointilist painter Paul Signac. Vincent adopted some of their technique. One of the things and optical color theory is the use of complimentary colors to create vibrant effects. Vincent once wrote of a painting, that he “tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.”

In 1888 he moved to Arles. His hope was to get a fresh start and eventually form an artist colony. This was one of his most prolific periods. Most people don’t realize in just a decade, van Gogh created about 2100 works of art and a good deal of that collection came in just the last two years of his life.

This is where he had the yellow house that he shared with Gauguin for some time. Many of his famous works such as the sunflowers, his bedroom, the night cafe came from this period. Van Gogh was super excited to have Gauguin come stay with him. He prepped the place and he kind of went over budget buying furniture but wanted to impress his new roommate.

Over time the friendship soured. It was after a fight between the two of them that Vincent cut his ear off. Exactly what happened is unclear. The generally accepted story is that Gauguin was going to leave, van Gogh was distraught and chased after him, they had a heated exchange and van Gogh took a razor to his ear. As odd as this sounds, there was a character in a book who did something similar at this time and Vincent was known to have a history of self-injury. He believed he had chased away his friend and ruined his chance at his dream of an artist colony. There are others who believe that Gauguin cut off Vincent’s ear in the heat of an argument.

After the ear incident, Vincent needed serious medical attention. For a while it was not clear whether he would survive and he claimed to have no memory of the incident indicating it happened during a severe mental breakdown. He stayed in a few hospitals for his physical and psychological problems.

In 1889, he painted Portrait of Dr. Felix Rey. Apparently the doctor didn’t think much of the painting and used it to repair a chicken coop before ultimately giving it away. I cannot help but wonder how that conversation went “Here take this portrait of me.” seems odd enough, but then adding “it was made by an unstable man and it was temporarily used to patch a hole in my chicken coop.” and someone else responded “sounds good. I’ll hang that in my home.” The portrait that would have been featured on redneck repairs is now in a museum and valued over $50 million.

Van Gogh entered the asylum at Saint Remy on May 8, 1889. It seems like this was a nice asylum. He had two cells, one of which he could use as a studio. The asylum at Saint Remy was run by progressives who believed that people would benefit from time out with nature and there were gardens around and Vincent was allowed to walk the grounds. In some ways, this was likely the healthiest he was during his artistic career because he was getting regular meals, or distracted by vices like drinking.

While he was free to work and painted quite a bit, he was limited in subject matter. He could walk the grounds a bit and did paint some landscapes but he also relied quite heavily on inspiration from other artists' works as well as re-working some of his older pieces. This is the period where we see all of his swirls and distortions coming through.

When talking about a bundle of his paintings sent to Theo, Vincent referred to Starry Night as nothing special (He said some other things like a wheat field, mountain, orchard were a little good and lumped Starry Night in with “the rest” that meant nothing to him). In a tragic bit of irony, while today it is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces ever painted, Vincent van Gogh considered The Starry Night to be a failure.

As always, you can find images of the work discussed along with other resources on the website www.whoartedpodcast.com. If you have any connections, corrections or suggestions you would like to share, you can email whoartedpodcast@gmail.com

Other works discussed in this episode included The Night Cafe and Starry Night Over the Rhone

If you missed part 1 last week, you can listen below.

This week's episode is going to be a 2 part episode. My good friend, fellow art teacher and former mentor, Chuck Hoff joined me to talk about one of my favorite artists of all time, Vincent Van Gogh.

In part 1, we discuss his early life and his first major masterpiece, The Potato Eaters from 1885.

Born March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert a predominantly Catholic province in the Netherlands. His father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Vincent was said to be a pensive child. He was initially taught by his mother and a governess, then went to the village school in 1860 and he was sent to a boarding school in 1864. He was unhappy there and asked to come home. Instead, they sent him to a different boarding school in 1866. He felt abandoned and miserable.

While at the boarding school in Tilburg, he learned from Constant Cornelius Huijsmans who had been a reasonably successful artist in Paris. He was known for his rejection of common technique and favoring impressions of common objects and nature. Vincent was mainly focused on how miserable he was and abruptly returned home in March of 1864 (about 11 years). He later described his childhood as “austere, cold and sterile.”

n 1869, Vincent’s uncle got him a job as an art dealer because this was a time when 16 year olds would be starting their careers. He was apparently pretty good at the job. He transferred to the London branch and at just 20 years old, he was earning more than his father. This was a happy time for Vincent. His sister in law later said it was the best year of his life.

Unfortunately that happy period ended as he had some unrequited love, then became isolated and more religious. In 1875, he was transferred to Paris but became resentful of how art was being commodified which is a really ironic stance for an art dealer. Unsurprisingly he was dismissed from that job after about a year.

He focused intensely on religion and wanted to become a pastor. He stayed with his uncle, a theologian, while studying for the entrance exam to the University of Amsterdam. He failed the exam and left his uncle’s house.

He failed another course, but he was determined and in 1879 he took a position as a missionary in Belgium. While there, van Gogh gave his comfortable lodging to a homeless man and he stayed in a hut sleeping on a straw bed. Apparently this behavior was seen as beneath the dignity of the priesthood and in 1880, he returned home to Etten. His brother Theo encouraged Vincent to study art under a Dutch artist, Willem Roelofs, who encouraged Vincent to attend Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He studied anatomy, modeling and perspective at the academie.

The first major work from this time period was The Potato Eaters. Vincent felt like his brother Theo was not doing enough to sell his works. Theo said they were too dark and not in line with the colorful style of the Impressionists which were popular at that time. Vincent was supported financially by his brother, but he lived in poverty and barely ate because he preferred to spend the money Theo sent him on supplies.

Next week we will discuss how his art shifted after moving to France, his ill fated dream of forming an artist's colony in Arles and of course, The Starry Night which went on to become his most famous masterpiece.

Art Explora

I am very excited to announce that Who ARTed will be a part of the Art Explora Foundation's upcoming digital platform. They have been working hard to develop a comprehensive resource that will be free to use making quality art education accessible to everyone. Their work brings together tons of amazing resources including articles, images, audio and video from cultural institutions such as The Tate Museum, The Louvre, Beaux Arts and podcasts like Art Curious. I am tremendously honored to have my work included in this group. Check it out on your smartphone or tablet starting October 19.

Click here for more information from Art Explora's site.


If you would like to give feedback, corrections, suggest a topic or want to be a guest and discuss an artist/work you are passionate about, email whoartedpodcast@gmail.com

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