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Netherland Great Artist Van Gogh at Work

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 4:13 AM

A Race against Time

Dutch peasants, The dark masterpiece of Van Gogh's early period, The Potato Eaters (left) is coloured 'like a dusty potato'. It shows Vincent's concern for the hard life of the Dutch peasant, and his respect for the dignity of labour which is also shown in Peasant.
Van Gogh only painted for the last few years of his life, but his output was enormous. He produced more than 800 canvases- working day and night, as if aware of the short time allotted to him.

When Van Gogh took the fateful decision to devote himself to art, in the bleak coal-mining district of the Borinage in Belgium, he was already 27. He had enjoyed sketching since childhood, especially views of the flat Dutch countryside, with peasants labouring in the fields. But he had never learned to paint in oils.

Woman, drawn in the same year 1885, When Vincent went to Paris a year later his painting changed completely, influenced by the Impressionists.
At first he concentrated on drawing, employing a teach-yourself method of the time known as the Bargues technique. He was very conscious of his deficiencies, and eagerly associated with other painters, among them his relative Anton Mauve, whom he visited in the Hague. But Vincent's fierce independence and stormy temperament made it impossible for him to be a pupil he invariably argued with his mentors.


In Paris, he was inspired by the works of the Impressionists and their followers, who had abandoned the methods of traditional art. Working out of doors instead of in the studio, they ignored the idea of a 'finished' painting, in which all colours were mixed on the palette to the correct shade, then laid down smoothly on the canvas and finally varnished. Instead they used pure, bright colours reds and blues, yellows, whites and greens and put down their paint in rough brush strokes which gave the impression of light being reflected from natural surfaces.

The Painter on his Way to Work 1888, Van Gogh sets out with his easel, canvas and paints to work in the blazing sunshine of southern France. He often completed a picture in a single day.
The Impressionist method suited Vincent's purposes like them, he liked to work fast and out-of-doors and he soon abandoned the sombre browns and blacks he had used in Holland for paintings such as The Potato Eaters. In Paris, too, he was inspired by Japanese art, which had recently become popular: hundreds of wood-cut prints were readily available at a couple of francs apiece.

Vincent saw Arles as a French version of Japan, and he travelled south in 1888 as if on a personal mission to create a new movement in art. For over a year he worked himself to breaking point, painting up to 16 hours a day. He had always worked in frenzied bursts of activity, heedless of his deteriorating health, but now he scarcely stopped to eat or drink, almost as if aware of the short lifespan allotted to him.


Parisian street scenes, In Paris, Vincent began painting pictures of the city in the bright colours and blocky brushstrokes which were used by the Impressionists. The Restaurant de la Sirene (1887) shows a view near Emile Bernard's studio.
Every day, through the blazing heat of the sum-mer, he would march out and set up his easel. In the autumn he tried unsuccessfully to defy the fierce southern wind, the Mistral, by pinning his canvas to the ground with heavy boulders. He would paint all night, if necessary. To give himself enough light to paint The Café Terrace, he stuck candles round his broad-brimmed hat and along the top of his easel, and as the bemused Arlesiens looked on, he began to paint, 'absolutely piling on, exaggerating the colour'.

Vincent had always painted with thick layers of colour. Even for some of the Dutch pictures he had applied paint so liberally that individual brushmarks were ineffective, and he resorted to squeezing paint straight from the tube on to the canvas, then modeling it 'a little' with his brush. Though he subsequently learned to texture his surfaces with great sensitivity, this thickly-applied paint known as impasto remained a hallmark of Van Gogh's art.

Expressive colour In this late watercolour of Stone Steps in the Hospital Garden (1889), the blue leaves and purple tree trunk reveal Vincent's aim to 'express myself forcibly' through the use of colour.
By 'exaggerating the colour', he explained to his brother Theo, he wished 'to express myself forcibly'. Colours for Van Gogh did not merely describe objects, but gave them meaning; and no colour meant more to him than yellow. In Japan it symbolized friendship. It represented the glory of the sun and the golden wheat in short; it was the colour of creation. Even in his night pictures yellow plays a surprisingly important part. And in his famous painting Sunflowers he created a whole painting with little colour other than yellow, a technical feat almost without parallel.


Letters to Theo requesting paint highlight Vin-cent's preference. They always start with demands for large tubes of yellow and white paint. And the other colours he used heavily, especially purples and blues, serve to accentuate the power of yellow. His concern for colour extended to the framing of each work, and it was not uncommon for him to give very explicit instructions to ensure the right effect: on one occasion he asked for a royal blue and gold frame to be designed especially for his canvas.

In the months before his breakdown, Vincent produced some 200 paintings, including about 50 portraits of his friends in Arles. Frequently he completed a painting in a single day an amazing work-rate, even by the standards of the Impressionists. 'I was right,' he wrote to Theo, 'to work at white heat as long as it was fine.' And when his brother once hinted that his enormous output might adversely affect the quality of his work, he retorted that 'Quick work does not mean less serious work, it depends on one's self-confidence and experience.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) Ohashi Bridge in the Rain, Van Gogh made a copy of this wood-cut, which was one of the many Japanese prints he collected. It shows the bright colour and simplicity of design which typified Japanese art, and appealed so strongly to Van Gogh and his contemporaries.
Under the crushing weight of mental collapse, Van Gogh's self-confidence became badly bruised. The swirling lines which distinguish all his late paintings seem to echo the torment in his mind. Yet in this final phase of his career, Vincent still worked at a punishing pace, producing a further 200 paintings in the last year of his life. Among them was one of his greatest masterpieces the Self-Portrait of 1890. One in a series of self-portraits equalled only by Rembrandt's for their candour and penetration, it is a painting almost without colour, dominated by pale, icy colours; warmed only by the orange-brown of the artist's hair and beard.


 The Bedroom at Arles 


Van Gogh painted this bedroom in his 'Yellow House' at Arles in the autumn of 1888, while awaiting Gauguin's arrival. It was one of a series of pictures he made to decorate the house and he hoped impress his friend. He had been living alone in Arles for months, and now he hoped the house would become the headquarters of an artists' colony, with Gauguin as its leader.

He painted the room as simply as possible, with pure, harmonious colours and strongly outlined shapes. The room is shown empty of people, but with an air of expectancy: every-thing is painted in pairs. The two pairs of pictures, two pillows, and especially the two chairs may well reflect Vincent's excitement that his solitude was about to end.

Writer – Marshall Cavendish

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