7 Van Gogh Paintings and Their Interesting Stories
With a brief artistic career spanning a decade and a staggering 2100 artworks to his credit, including 860 oil paintings, Vincent Van Gogh was one of the most prolific artists of all times. Today, having a Van Gogh artwork is like owning a treasure as they are some of the most expensive paintings in the world. Van Gogh was the son of a pastor and didn’t really have any formal training in painting. In fact, he left Antwerp Academy within three months of enrollment due to a clash of ideas and his refusal to follow their rules. So what makes a Van Gogh painting so special?
Vincent Van Gogh artworks are famous today because of their mesmerizing beauty and the ability to bring seemingly simple and inanimate objects to life. A Van Gogh famous painting like Sunflowers, Cypresses and Van Gogh’s Chair stand testament to his unique skill of working with still life images and making them look ethereal. It's also interesting to note that some of Van Gogh most famous painting were conceived by him in a troubled state of mind.
Here are 7 Van Gogh Paintings that have become masterpieces over the years, thanks to their creator’s skill and an interesting backstory!
7 Van Gogh Paintings and Their Interesting Stories
- The Starry Night (1889)
One of Van Gogh most famous painting, The Starry Night is often described as a dreamy portrayal of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, as seen from the window of his asylum. Today, it’s one of the most celebrated Vincent Van Gogh artworks. The bold colours and blue and yellow swirls in the sky seem to project Van Gogh’s inner conflicts onto a canvas. The events leading up to his admission in the asylum are nothing short of tragic, though.
In 1888, Paul Gauguin moved to Arles in Paris, upon Van Gogh’s insistence and the two lived together for nine turbulent weeks. Van Gogh wanted to start an artists’ colony under Gauguin’s mentorship but the latter was against this idea. They had temperamental differences which kept escalating over the course of their alliance. Once day, after an altercation with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off a part of his ear. Not long after this, he was admitted to a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy de Provence where the greatest of Van Gogh Artworks were conceived, including The Starry Night.
After painting this masterpiece, he wrote, “I don't know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.” The flame like Cypresses and bright swirls of blue and yellow give this Van Gogh painting a very animated vibe. Through his artistic skill, Van Gogh was able to project the anxieties and loneliness that our whole generation faces even today.
- The Potato Eaters (1885)
This was a personal favourite for Van Gogh, although it received a lot of criticism back in its day. However, today it's one of the best known Van Gogh Artworks. The family portrayed in this painting was introduced to Van Gogh through a friend of his. The de Groot family members and home went on to be featured in several Van Gogh famous painting like Gordina de Groot and The Cottage. This painting was created with the intention of highlighting the living conditions of countryside families who worked hard to put food on their table. It was one of his earliest paintings and he chose a difficult theme to work with to showcase his skills. When Van Gogh sent a lithograph of this painting to his brother, Theo, he said it was too dark and wouldn’t sell commercially.
In 1991, it was stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh’s museum along with 20 other Van Gogh artworks. However, in a twist of fate, the car being used by the thieves got a flat tire due to which they had to flee, leaving behind the precious paintings which were soon restored to the museum.
- Almond Blossoms (1890)
This Van Gogh painting was created during the artist’s stay at a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. For Van Gogh, blooming flowers represented rebirth and hope. He found great joy in painting flowers and flowering trees. This Van Gogh Painting was a gift for his newborn nephew, whom Theo named after the artist: Vincent Willem. It was inspired by Japanese woodblocks and prints, and he is believed to have sought serenity through these prints and paintings.
When Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888, it was the season for fruit trees to bloom. He spent weeks painting blossoming trees and dedicated several Van Gogh artworks to this pursuit. He called Arles “the Japan of the South” and was inspired by nature’s bounty to create this famous painting.
- Irises (1889)
Similar to Almond Blossoms, this Van Gogh Painting was also inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. It was made within a few weeks of his admission into the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh drew inspiration from the hospital garden and, like many other Van Gogh artworks, painted it from his memory of the flowers in full bloom.
Though it is one of Van Gogh most famous painting from his asylum days, it is quite different from the 130 or so artworks he created during his stay here. It lacks the high tension and tragic notes found in his later paintings. This painting has a light and soft character to it that makes it endearing even today. In 1990, it was sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
- Cafe Terrace at Night (1888)
Van Gogh had always wanted to paint a nocturnal scene, sans the dark tones. He decided to use contrasting colours for creating a luminous surface that seems to be emanating a light of its own. If you look closely, the night sky seems to be a nascent version of, what later came to be known as, The Starry Night, with swirls of white paint to depict stars.
This Van Gogh artwork was an actual representation of a gas-lit cafe in Arles and it was initially exhibited in 1891 under the title, Coffeehouse, in the evening. He said, ‘I believe that an abundance of gaslight, which, after all, is yellow and orange, intensifies blue.’ The site was renovated in 1990-1991.to resemble the iconic Van Gogh painting.
This is a series of two still life paintings depicting sunflowers in different arrangements. The first series of this Van Gogh painting was created in 1887 and depicts sunflowers lying on a flat surface. This version was painted in Paris. Paul Gauguin was so enamoured by his Sunflower series that he claimed one of them in exchange for shifting to Arles to live with Van Gogh. Later on, two paintings from this series were used to decorate the ‘Yellow House’ for Gauguin’s arrival.
This Van Gogh painting expressed gratitude, according to the artist. He painted five versions of sunflowers in a vase. He used three shades of yellow for this Van Gogh artwork “and nothing else”. This artwork is a great example of simple elements giving rise to something utterly graceful, instead of taking away from it’s beauty.
- Bedroom in Arles (1888)
This Van Gogh painting series was originally titled The Bedroom. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh explained that the idea for this painting came to him during a spell of ill health that had left him bedridden for several days. The unique Van Gogh artwork is bereft of any shadows, which was an intentional move by the artist. This along with the trapezoid walls give a distorted perspective of the room. The door to the left connected his room to the one he had prepared for his mentor, Paul Gauguin, while the one on the right opened to stairs that led to the upper floor.
The first version is on permanent loan to the Van Gogh museum, Amsterdam, while the second one is in the Art Institute of Chicago. The third version was in his sister's possession and now lies on permanent display in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.