"Potato Eaters" | "Self Portraits" | "Still Life with Carafe and Lemons" | "Wheatfield With Crows" | "Landscape at Twilight" | "The Zouave" | "Roulin Children Portraits" | Vincent's "Yellow House" | Happy Pictures | "Fishing Boats at St. Marie" | "Olive Grove"
This is the largest tour of Vincent's paintings in over thirty years. We saw it at the LA County Museum of Art on Monday, March 15, 1999. It runs through mid-May. The only other stop was at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The paintings live at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. These are my raw notes that I made in the galleries. I have reorganized them by subject matter, somewhat, but the content is in the heat of passion in front of the paintings.
"Skull Smoking a
Cigarette" Small picture. Confident, bold. Thick highlights,
against deep black background. Greenish tones predominate.
"Peasant Woman Silhouetted Against a Window" Greenish
bitumen tones. Great character studies. Thorough knowledge of
disposition of light and shade in these early works.
"Scheveningen Beach in Stormy Weather" 1882 One of the
earliest. White and light gray-greens. Thick steel gray sky. Thick
lights in the waves. At a glance the color seems more advanced than
the peasants of 1885. The serious observer sees a deeper
understanding of character in the latest peasants. A stronger use of
light and shade. Beautiful early works of Dutch landscapes and peasants.
Beautiful early portraits of a woman and old man show the style that will ripen in a couple years. "The Head of the Old Man" is painted with bold thick strokes. It reminds me of Cezanne's "Uncle Dominique." Both this and the woman from Dec. 1885. In here his style is developing from earlier in that year. Beautiful cottage from May. These early works are remarkable in the evolution of his style. Like all great artists, his superficial shortcomings are masked by the depth of feeling and expression. Ordinary people see the opposite. These are exquisite gems.
"Potato Eaters" dusky lamplight. The color is superb. The peasant man in the lower left: His legs are above the table top as he sits at it. The woman looking at him has the table at the level of her breads. I've never seen these things in the painting. Despite these obvious shortcomings, the haunting expressions of the faces and hands, with the dusky green color with splashes of high light make this a compelling study in character, to say nothing of the chiaroscuro effect. Ordinary people are incapable of this depth of feeling, even while making the correct proportions and perspective in the drawing. These people live in the facial expressions, hands, color...he sacrificed exactitude, but creates life. Ordinary painters are completely incapable of that.
"The point is that I have tried to bring out the idea that these people eating potatoes by the light of the lamp have dug the earth with the self same hands they are now putting into the dish, and it thus suggests manual labor and a meal honestly earned." Vincent
" Potato Eaters" is from April '85. "The Vicarage at Nuenen" (Oct, Nov. '85) is sharper in the great lines. The transition from spring to winter is obvious in this simple study. It foreshadows "The Yellow House in Arles."
"Self-Portrait at the Easel" The intensity of his expression The blue smock with deep chrome specks in it. The orange beard. The colors in the palette. Photos don't capture the intensity of color in this one, either. Strong, powerful portrait . The depth of the wells on his palette, the intensity of the color, strong colors in the flesh and hair that fuse. Signed "Vincent '88" on the Stretcher. One of his best Self-Portraits
"Self-Portrait with Felt Hat" (1887-'88) Pasty flesh with strong colored pen strokes (brushed) The pointillist impressionist portrait. This one has always amazed me in photos. They don't do it justice. Wild and ragged. The madness that would grab him later is everywhere in this picture. Very controlled slow burn, though. Strong blue-green strokes against carmine, a lot of vermilion, Naples, and darker rust colored beard. Amazing energy. It fuses at about 50 feet into pale, pasty flesh. This is what Monet's late paintings do, but Vincent does it with flesh in portraiture 20 or so years earlier. Monet was working on that then, though, but maybe not quite as far advanced. I love the Self-Portrait, probably best, and this one is exceptional. "Portrait of a Restaurant Owner, (Possibly Lucien Martin)" Beautiful portrait. I'm not familiar with this painting. Very contemplative.
Vincent looks downright dignified with the "Dark Self-Portrait With the Long-Stemmed Pipe." Reddish brown background, gray jacket, hi-light light side of the face. Deep, dark, warm, and, above all, dignified. (1886)
Three small (tiny) Self-Portraits from 1887. Very intense. Small is beautiful. The small size in no way diminishes the intensity of expression. Oil on pasteboard. The paint absorbs, but the boldness of stroke is in the juxtaposition of color, and it remains.
Beautiful "Still Life with Carafe and Lemons" foreshadows the Japanese influence in the bold red orange pattern against the warm white paper in the background. The green table, and the orange-yellow lemons. These same tones appeal everywhere in varying intensities, amounts, and blends of complements . Bold signature in the same green in the lower right. Dated '87 Violet greenish tones in the bottle. Amazing Painting. The same wallpaper is in the "Flowerpot with Chives" This picture has a barely signature under the lip of the pot.
"Wheatfield With Crows" Smaller than I expected. Certainly no less powerful. Dark Blackish Blues against lighter cobalt and Ultramarine tones. Black, black crows. The wings and bodies are defined by bold strokes. Wild strokes, like clockwork. Less detail than in the earlier works. Ochres-yellow for the wheat, red for the path. A few blackish (green) strokes make the wheat stand up in front. Reddish ocher strokes give it thickness at the back. Stormy sky with a cluster of crows make this as ominous as Seigfried's death. Much more ominous and powerful than any photo of it. This picture is flat out intimidating. The color contrasts and brush strokes combine to make this picture scary. The paths running off the ends, with the center path disappearing in the wheatfield leave no way out. The frame closes everything off. I'd probably kill myself after painting this, too. There's a desperation here that I've never seen on canvas. It's a desperate urgency that leaves no alternative. The crows seem to be descending from the right corner. Almost like they are attacking This is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," but much more compelling. This use of color. These birds are definitely flying towards you. The front end of the center path, with the triangle of wheat at the right foreground is where they all converge. Amazing picture! "Daubigny's Garden" and "Ears of Wheat" from June, 1890 are much more subdued in color, although still very strong. Everything explodes in "Wheatfield with Crows" a month later. That makes it even more remarkable. "Ears of Wheat" is very low contrast with greens, yellow variations dark blues, and a few spots of white. It almost foreshadows Monet's last works, but with much less color.
"Landscape at Twilight" is amazing. All in greens. Dark fields and trees against the light yellow green sky. Orange tones low in the sky. A violet house or barn. Trees silhouetted against the sky. Lights in the green fields give it depth. Light warm path in the foreground. Greenish lights against orange broken tones. Love it! This "Landscape at Twilight" up close has bold brush strokes of thick paint. Blacks and greens in the trees. The blue row of houses at the back. The pinkish earth tones hatched over with the emerald blue green in the foreground. It's amazing how it separates into outlines up close and fuses at a distance.
The "Pieta" after Delacroix. There are some big pictures here, and this is one. Strong lemon light in the sky. My Copy's pretty good. "The Zouave" This is another exceptional one. The photos don't come close to capturing the intensity of contrast and strength of color. The red brick with white mortar (?) between the bricks, the black line up from his shoulder. This against the green background, red red hat, blue black coat. These contrasts make this picture explode off the canvas. The depth of black make the intensity of the Prussian blue sash jump out, but it balances against the hat, background and arabesques (yellow, orange, red) on the jacket. This guy could come to life in "Carmen." Amazing picture!
His portraits of the Roulon children are remarkable. Against all odds, he captures the baby Marcelle" with its intensity, he has no business capturing this soft puff ball of a baby. "Camille" looks like one of the "Dead End Kids." You almost expect Bogart to step into the background. The golden green jacket and blue cap turned sideways combine with the pursed lips, pinkish gold tanned flesh to create a work as powerful as the "Peasant." There's a sadness to the expression, though, that sets off the sparkling color.
There are no shadows in "The Bedroom," and barely in the "Yellow House." This one looks almost haunted. The strong, powerful blue sky almost gives an urgency to the house. It's like he's looking for warmth and friendship. He's screaming for it, but there's none. The dark windows, the darkest part of the picture. There's life around, but it doesn't include him. There's a desperation to this place that he regarded as his refuge. The train steams across the trestle in the background. Violent contrasts everywhere between front and back. People in the cafe, and walking along the street, but it's only desperate screaming loneliness for Vincent. Remarkable color and expression.
"Still-Life With Quinces and Lemons." Jubilation. A study all in yellow with a yellow frame made by him It's painted wood. The whole thing is encased in glass. Maybe his sunniest mood! It shouts Joy!
A sparkling golden "Field with Flowers" Full sunlight, the buildings of Arles visible in the background through the trees. This has the feel of Santa Barbara without the development. The buildings have that feel. The field of Irises are in the foreground. This looks like the same field that is in the painting at the Getty, but that one is only the Irises. This is a happy picture. It sparkles...I love it. "Wheatfield with Reaper" Beautiful harmony of yellow in the foreground. Ocher, against, lemon, chrome, whitish, delicate color, wild strokes against the purple, yellow, green mountains. Green sky. Big yellow sun. Hot. He's turning away from the world here. "Almond Blossom" Beautiful Japanese style blur against the white blossoms. Vincent is in a happy mood, but the underlying desperate melancholy is there. The decoration for Theo's baby's room and it works.
"The Crab on it's Back" Pink green and red tones against a vivid emerald background and foreground. The small brush strokes make you feel the texture of the crab. The claws and legs are like tentacles. Great little study. Beautiful picture of "The Sea at Les Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer" strong color with a big wave in the foreground. Beautiful sparkling blue and green sea against a blue sky, with sail boats. Much stronger contrasts than Monet. "Fishing Boats at St. Marie" The boats in the foreground are strong and sharp. The background especially the sea almost look like watercolor, obviously it's not. This is almost like a portrait of the boats. Tangled "Undergrowth" with tree trunks in the foreground receding to the back in a triangle from left front to right rear. Light in the back, that moves to the front in clumps make this a wild green and violet study in compositional depth.
The "Olive Grove" This is a wild one. He's in a dark mood here. Low contrast, cool dark colors, the tentacles of the Olive trees. The "Courtesan" (after Eisen) Great Japanese print. Strong, powerful, sharp. Lily Ponds, water lilies. A frog on the pad in the foreground, cranes in the background.
"The Lovers in the Park" My copy doesn't have the defined strokes, but is more like Pissaro than this. The feel is there, though. The "Emperor Moth" The center looks like a face. Beautiful design. "The Bat" with luminous orange golden wings.