This is my new favourite painting:
‘Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette‘, by Vincent van Gogh, was painted around 1885-86 in Antwerp. It is a stunning oil painting, with the wonderfully lit rolled cigarette casually held between the teeth, possibly highlighting his disdain for the conservative approaches at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he was based when he painted this picture. Just wonderful, a real mocking memento mori.
I am honestly surprised I have never come across it before, nor of his other two study paintings of a human skull (here and here). It is fair to say that I now bitterly regret not going back to view his works in Amsterdam recently, what a chance I missed!
Ever since visiting Amsterdam in the late 1990’s with my family, and being introduced to Impressionism via Amsterdam’s magnificent art galleries, I have been a fan of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and his artwork. A poster copy of the painting below hangs on my bathroom door, and as I look at it each day I become more enamored and entranced by the details in the composition, and in the application of the brushstrokes. The strong vibrant colours leap out at the viewer, and help to create an atmospheric setting. I particularly love the broad brush strokes of the cobbled path in the foreground, the natural lush green of the encroaching tree on the viewers right hand side, and the people in the distance, promenading along past the café. The painting is given a sense of perspective by the woman in red, walking away from the viewer, whilst the night is wonderfully evocative of the swirls of stars in the distant dark depths of space.
Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Café Terrace at Night‘ (oil on canvas), painted in Arles, France, in 1888. A stunning composition of colours, the painting captured people drinking and socialising in the early evening, gathered under a bright sulphur yellow light. This was one of his first paintings where he depicted the swirling stars in the night, an antecedent to his more famous later painting ‘The Starry Night‘, which made full use of the swirling stars in the night sky.
The painting is, to my mind, quite magical and a beauty to behold. It appeals to me because it is not technically perfect but rather because it is more evocative and emotional than finely executed draughtsmanship; it fits within my idea of perfection through imperfection. It makes me want to start painting again, to splash a few colours onto canvas and to see how they interact. I hope you enjoy this painting as much as I do. Here is an interesting webpage detailing Vincent van Gogh’s art work throughout his life, and his biography, which makes for interesting and melancholy reading. Recently it was announced that a letter, part written by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, will go on sale next month in Paris. Here is a short article discussing the letter.