Life and Art of Vincent Van Gogh

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Updated: Aug 15, 2023
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“Art and life are so closely interwoven, so inseparably bound up with one another, that we cannot attempt to describe them separately, as is so often done in monographs on artists.” In other words, we cannot talk about artwork without talking about the artist. A good example of this is the artist named Vincent Van Gogh.

Right now, you might be wondering, why him? The answer to that question lies in Van Gogh’s life history. To understand Van Gogh’s artwork, we need to know about his life.

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Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1830, in Zundert, Netherlands. As a child, he was serious, thoughtful and quiet. He was deeply involved in art from a young age and began to draw. Consequently, as he grew older, his skills in drawing and painting improved. In his adolescence, he started working as an art dealer and traveled extensively. However, Van Gogh became deeply depressed after he was transferred to London. He found a spiritual refuge in his religion and spent his time as a Protestant missionary in Southern Belgium. After he lost his job, he was gaunt and miserable and decided to return home. But an offer came from his brother Theo, who offered to provide financial aid in order for Vincent to become an artist. Van Gogh accepted the offer and they maintained contact through letters. Van Gogh quickly began to paint. His early artworks were mostly still life and depictions of peasant laborers. However, these works reflected his depression and Van Gogh began to lose his inspiration. Upon moving to Paris, he met influential figures in the art world like Emile Bernard, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Gauguin. As a result, Van Gogh specialized in a new genre of art: post-impressionism. He began to add vivid color to his artworks and his style evolved. Despite his talent, no one recognized his ability during his lifetime, and he was only able to sell one painting. Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, leading him to mutilate his own ear. Worried about his mental stability, he admitted himself to the mental hospital in Saint-Remy. After his stay there, Van Gogh became even more depressed and lonely. Unable to bear it any longer, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later in the hospital on July 29, 1890, at the age of thirty-seven in Theo’s arms.

The purpose of including his biography is to better interpret his paintings. Sometimes, people fail to understand the deeper meaning of Van Gogh’s paintings. An example of this is that many people initially dismissed his paintings as unfinished and were unwilling to buy them. However, these critics could not have predicted that Van Gogh would posthumously become a leading figure in the post-impressionism movement and his paintings would sell for millions of dollars. For instance, Van Gogh’s most famous work of art, Starry Night, is valued at over 100 million dollars.

“A combination of imagination, memory, emotion, and observation, the oil painting on canvas depicts an expressive swirling sky with a large flame-like cypress – thought to represent the bridge between life and death – looming in the foreground. The painting, Wheat Field with Cypresses, has two versions. However, the painting, which is the object of this article, is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY.”

The process Van Gogh used to create Wheat Field with Cypresses was as follows: first, Van Gogh sketched out the design with charcoal underdrawing. He then applied thin paint on the cypress trees and sky, allowing the ground to show in places, using thick impasto for the foreground wheat and the clouds above (Kramer). Van Gogh used complementary hues. He preferred zinc white for the clouds rather than dominant white. This kind of white is so radiant, it helps to give more luminosity to cobalt blue in the sky area. Viridian and emerald green were used to animate the bushes and cypresses. Cleverly, he used a small amount of vermilion paint for the poppies. He used cobalt blue to give the mountains the sensation that they were far from the wheat field and cypresses. On the earth, he used shades of chrome yellow to impart warmth to the wheat field. This also provided contrast to the swirling clouds. He applied linear strokes to the contours of shapes like clouds, grass, hillsides. He used vivid colors in his work, distinguishing it as unique. These techniques, employed by him, constitute his identifiable style. Experts consider the pointillist brushstrokes and lines sublime: they not only indicate his mastery of an innovative technique for his time, but also a solid aesthetic proposal in which impressionistic strokes, surreal contrasts, and forms with great expressive force coexist.

Wheat Field with Cypresses was completed in June 1889, when Van Gogh was being treated for mental illness in Saint-Rémy. This painting was created when he was allowed to take short walks outside of the asylum. As a result, it was the first in his wheat field series. He aimed to capture aspects of the Provencal countryside with its olive trees and cypresses. Van Gogh sent a letter to his brother describing his most recent painting, giving him some details about it: “I have a canvas of cypresses with a few ears of wheat, poppies, a blue sky, which is like a multicolored Scotch plaid; the former painted with a thick impasto, like the Monticellis.” This painting features a golden wheat field. On the right, there are two prominent, darker cypresses. The cool tones used in the swirling clouds and mountains create a striking northern backdrop. In fact, the cypresses and bushes on the left side complement this landscape. Additionally, one can sense the wind affecting the clouds, the wheat field, the small bushes, and cypresses. Deliberately, Van Gogh applied thick layers to the canvas to convey this sense of motion. This technique, impasto, was a favorite of Van Gogh and one he frequently employed.

In that painting, you can see very clearly that the painter used similar colors to create a beautiful contrast between the elements that make up the earth and the sky. In my view, he used cool colors in the sky to create the impression of moving clouds and the sensation of a strong wind. Van Gogh also tried to use zinc white to nuance the clouds and give them exceptional harmony. He then graphically formed lines to give the clouds an attractive shape to our eyes. Van Gogh also made these strokes with a purpose–to guide us towards an important focal point on the right side of the painting.

Unlike the sky, the earth is depicted as fresh, fertile, and warm. This scenery makes us want to step inside the painting, much like Van Gogh himself on a summer day. The artist’s main objective was to make us feel the essence of nature through his work. In other words, Van Gogh’s deep-seated emotions influenced how he interpreted the world and translated it onto canvas. He also wanted us to see his work through his perspective and to understand the symbolism embedded within it. For instance, the cypresses resemble two dark flames that resolutely contrast with the luminous and swirling blue sky, much like in his other piece, “Starry Night”. Both paintings share similar attributes in perspective, balance, texture, rhythm, unity, and so forth. To summarize, “Wheat Field with Cypresses” serves as the diurnal counterpart to “Starry Night”.

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Life and art of Vincent van Gogh. (2022, Nov 17). Retrieved from