Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait 1897


Vincent van Gogh was born March 30th 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands.

He died in 1890.  His work was characterised by his distinctive mark-making and vivid colours.


Trees with Ivy in the asylum garden, 1889.

Trees with Ivy in the asylum garden, 1889

This is a piece from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

It is reed pen and ink, the ink has since turned brown, on cream wove paper – 62 x 47 cm.

The markings used are instantly recognisable as van Gogh – the vertical marks for the background trees along with the groups of horizontal lines to depict shadows in the bottom left can all be seen in painted works like:



Road with Cypress and Star, 1890
Olive trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, 1889


Road with Cypress and Star and Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun



I came across a review of the 2005 exhibition of van Gogh’s work, at the NY Metropolitan Museum, by Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times while browsing through Katherine Tyrrell’s wonderful art blog – Making a Mark.

In the essay Kimmelman observes that the drawings “translate sky, rocks and plains into a swarm of swirls, dots, jabs and scratches. Foaming, cable-knit patterns imply the heaving gusts of wind rustling olive branches and bending gnarled olive trunks; whispery, microscopic speckles, endless numbers of them, mimic the quality of dull light on receding fields as they evaporate into the horizon”

What a great description ‘Trees with Ivy…’ is exactly as Kimmelman described.  It’s a chaos of marks, dots and scratches – extremely busy with a riot of different marks, but still recognisable as a garden teeming with life and sunlight.

Wheat field with Cypresses

Wheat Field with Cypresses at the Haude Galline near Eygalieres

Vincent van Gogh – 1889
Drawing Height: 47 cm (18.5 in.), Width: 62 cm (24.41 in.)
Van Gogh Museum (Netherlands)



These two drawings, later to become iconic oil paintings, show the variety of marks that van Gogh employs to descibe texture and form.  the whole drawing area is completely covered with a particular mark doing a particular job.  I have always loved the way that the starlit sky in ‘Starry Night’ is described simply with lines. But look closer to see that the lines are a wide variety of thicknesses and strengths of ink and flow this way and that to almost give a sense of movement in the heavens.  Add to this the colour of the oil version and you have another painting full of life.

Starry Night Drawing, 1889



Starry Night, 1889



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