Van Gogh was Dutch and remained in the Netherlands from his birth in 1853 until 1886 when he moved to Paris. His brother, Theo, was an art dealer in Paris and tried to help van Gogh sell his paintings but they were too much darker than the art that was popular in Paris at the time. You can see an example of van Gogh’s early style in the painting shown here, The Potato Eaters. It is much different from his later paintings as you can see below. In 1886 van Gogh moved so he could learn about the style of art that was being practiced in Paris.
In Paris van Gogh was surrounded by impressionists who used a lot of color and preferred to paint natural subjects outdoors. Click here for more information about impressionism. He also met many painters including Paul Gauguin who would later live with van Gogh in southern France.
When he had had enough of living in the city, van Gogh left Paris for the more peaceful Arles in southern France. Here, he lived in the Yellow House that became the subject of a painting shown here. Compare this painting with The Potato Eaters shown above and you can see the effect of the impressionists on van Gogh’s style.
It was in the Yellow House that Paul Gauguin came to live with van Gogh. The two painted almost without break for two months but they did not get along well as roommates and Gauguin moved out after a bad fight. Van Gogh was growing ill and beginning to see things that were not there so he, too, moved out of the Yellow House, but he remained in southern France. Though he never stopped painting, doctors cared for him for the rest of his life.
Van Gogh and his brother, Theo, were very close. Van Gogh and Theo wrote many letters to each other and van Gogh often sent ink sketches of paintings he’d done. It is because of these letters that we know so much about van Gogh’s life. He painted hundreds of works of art and we know exactly when and where most of them were completed. Theo cared about his brother so much that he even sent van Gogh money so he could pay his rent and buy art supplies. When van Gogh became ill, Theo made sure he was well taken care of by doctors.
Bellow are a few more of van Gogh’s paintings. Notice the colors and the thick paint.
Starry Night Over the Rhone
Self Portrait 1889
Van Gogh painted many self portraits. To do so he used a mirror so the details are shown in reverse.
Want to paint the way van Gogh did when he was living in the Yellow House? Van Gogh painted quickly, dashing thick globs of paint onto his canvas. Oil paint had only recently become available in tubes so he didn’t have to make his own paints like artists before him. He could just squeeze the paint from the tube onto his canvas.
Van Gogh didn’t have to paint every little detail for the viewer to understand what he was trying to create. Try using quick, short brush strokes to create the idea of an object. For instance, if you decide to paint a tree, don’t paint each leaf, just use many dashes of green paint where the leaves should be. Use acrylic craft paints for this project. They will be thick enough to paint the way van Gogh did, but will be less expensive than buying many tubes of oil paint. Remember to paint on thick paper so the paint doesn’t soak through. Posterboard would be perfect. Just cut it to any size you want.
EDITED TO ADD: Vincent van Gogh by Eileen Lucas, book review
EDITED TO ADD: The Yellow House by Susan Goldman Rubin, book review