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The most seductive thing about art is the personality of the artist himself.   Paul Cezzane

Vincent van Gogh wrote over 650 heartfelt letters –explorations in self-awareness— to his younger brother Theo who was his financial and emotional lifeline. Quotes by van Gogh translated into English are from his collected letters at the Van Gogh Museum, Netherlands.

“They say – and I am willing to believe it – that it is difficult to know yourself – but it isn’t easy to paint yourself, either. “

Between 1887 and 1889 van Gogh created over 3 dozen self-portraits: Purposely buying a mirror in default of a model “… if I can manage to paint the colouring of my own head…. I shall likewise be able to paint the heads of other good souls…” He used brushstrokes—varied and emphatic—to instill and convey all traits of character; and color “to express myself forcefully”.   “I like to paint in such a way … everyone who has eyes could understand it.” He imbued all he painted with an intimate and personal interpretation appealing to our hearts, rather than our minds—allowing us to feel as if we have a personal connection with the artist himself.

Van Gogh Self-Portrait with Straw Hat 1887-Detroit

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat 1887
Detroit Institute of Arts {PD}

van gogh starry night

Kroller-Muller Museum, Netherlands {{PD-Art | PD-old-100-expired}}

“… to feel the stars and the infinite high and clear above you. Then life is almost enchanted after all.”

In 1889, while seeking respite from his emotional turmoil, Vincent made over 100 paintings from an asylum in southern France. A star-gazer, he saw “under the great starlit vault of heaven something which after all one can only call God”.  Painted from emotion and memory, Starry Night took on a dreamlike quality – a cosmic fusion of color and combination of visual contrasts. Thought by Vincent a failed attempt having        “let myself go reaching for stars that are too big”, Starry Night is the subject of poetry, fiction, songs, and volumes of interpretation. Considered the pinnacle of achievement, Vincent never knew his masterpiece would become an icon of modern art for our time.

“I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”

Sunflowers is one of 5 extraordinary sunflower still lifes created in Arles in less than a week when a cold northerly wind prevented Vincent from working outdoors. Vincent used just 3 shades of yellow and ‘nothing else’; yellow was his favorite color. Painted to welcome fellow post-impressionist Gaugin to “the yellow house” in Arles south of France that Van Gogh hoped would become an artists’ mecca. Produced during a rare period of excited optimism, van Gogh wrote “I am painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating Bouillabaisse… the sunflowers are mine.”  Aware of their importance, he relished that his sunflowers were so distinctive to be almost like an artist’s signature. Sunflowers remains a kind of visual shorthand for the artist today and is likely the most popular still life in the history of art.

van gogh sunflowers

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) {{PD-old-100-expired}}

van gogh cafe terrace

Kroller-Muller Museum, Netherlands {{PD-Art | PD-old-100-expired}}

“I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”

In 1888, at the height of his powers, Vincent’s first painting in Arles France was Café Terrace at Night (Place du Forum). One of 3 with star-filled skies; even the position of the stars in the night sky is accurate. It was inspired by a literary reference to a café on a starlit night in Paris. Enthusiastic and pleased Vincent wrote “Here you have a night picture without any black in it done with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green.  It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot….I find satisfaction in painting these things immediately.”  Instilled with the sense of excitement and pleasure he experienced while creating, Café Terrace echoes his individual and personal reaction. The Café itself, renamed Café van Gogh, still exists today remodeled to appear as it did over a century ago.

Immerse yourself in iconic paintings by Vincent van Gogh

Play ArtMASTERS—the GameTM . Re-create Vincent’s bold work one tile at a time to win. Relate to how he felt as pigment was laid on canvas. Feel a personal connection with the artist himself.