Based on museum audio guide. All pictures copied from Van Gogh Museum’s official website.
1883-1885: Van Gogh admired 19th century French peasant painters like Millet, Breton, etc very much. He made up his mind at the age of 27 (1880). From then to 1883 Van Gogh settled in Nuenen and started painting idealized peasant life. He prepared more than one year before ‘The Potato Eaters’ that later made him famous.
Here are a few examples, including works from other painters who also depicted and idealized peasants’ life.
The Cottage (1885): The huge overhanging roof captivated him – in Van Gogh’s view, roof is like nest, made of all kinds of materials, keep human safe. We also notice there are two doors, which indicates two families under one roof. The painting is set at dusk, the time when peasants return from the entire day of hard work. In addition, there are trees overarching the roof, protecting people inside.
Head of a Woman (1885): It’s all about brushstrokes. Expression is more important than a correct rendering.
Still Life with Bible (1885): On the side of the painting, beside Bible, it is Zola’s novel – Bible of modern life. Painted one year after his father’s death, Van Gogh used two books to symbolize different worlds of his and his father’s.
The Potato Eaters (1885): This painting is filled with dark colors, even on people’s faces; this is the color of the earth – dignity of farmers. Steam rises from the platter and you could almost smell it. Van Gogh has worked a long time on this painting. Over multiple drafts, figures have shifted but the center was always around their hands. However, the publication reaction to this painting was mixed. He even received a shocking response from his friend which treated this work as a caricature.
1885-1886: Practice and practice, due to the lukewarm reaction of The Potato Eaters. Van Gogh went to Antwerp to receive training and was further inspired by the 17th-century masters (portraits).
1886-1888: Van Gogh moved to Paris. He Learned from impressionists and then developed his own expressive styles.
Manet – The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer: The seascape from the founder of Impressionim, Manet, was anything but traditional. The sailing boat is largely concealed. There are also bold division of picture plane and marked cropping. This could also be found in Van Gogh’s work.
In the Cafe: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin (1887): The figure is Van Gogh’s friend as well as lovers. Like the one in Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s work (above), the girl is likely a prostitute as we see cigarettes and beer on the table. Proper ladies did not drink or smoke in a cafe.
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887): The blue and orange pattern in the background is, don’t be surprised, science, which was based on the newest optic theories at the time. In adopting this method, Van Gogh tried to make his colors as intensive as possible.
Garden with Courting Couples (1887): Despite the lack of facial features, this painting expresses the poetic scene of young couples, with increased intensity by dash colors and the combination of foreground and background. Van Gogh here is experimenting colors – there are colors that complement each other just like man and wife. And looking from farther distance, the colors get blended together.
Boulevard de Clichy (1887): This is nearby where the brothers (Vincent and Theo) lived.
Trees and Undergrowth (1887): The painting has no center or focus – a very modern idea. The plane, from edge to edge and corner to corner, is covered by these dots. Van Gogh seemed very delighted being surrounded by it and all the colors he seized in this work.
1888-1889: Van Gogh left Paris and moved to Arles, a quieter place.
The Pink Orchard (1888): Van Gogh loved blossoms, representing new hope and new way for him to pursue art.
The Pink Peach Tree (1888): This is one of the three works painted and presented together. This format was inspired from Japanese graphic art.
The Langlois Bridge (1888): Van Gogh applied a simple composition in this painting to convey Provence’s essential beauty and its “the clearness of atmosphere.”
The Bedroom (1888): This colorful painting was mean to offer people comfort. Van Gogh was using colors to express emotions.
Field with Irises near Arles (1888): The painting is all about light and colors, with a meadow full of yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants, town in back ground and a strip of blue sky.
Fishing Boats on the Beach (1888): This painting reveals Van Gogh’s passion in Japanese art, indicated by the clear contrast of the boat’s outline and the clarity he wanted to achieve.
Sunflowers (1889): The flowers almost seem to glow. Here we see all different kinds of essentially one color and could certainly be surrounded by the feeling of power. The paints are so thick to give its weight. Van Gogh liked things to run down, to be a bit rough and worn, which was like real life – you could see some of the flowers are dying. This work was served as a welcome for Gauguin to Arles and the artist Ppainted five different versions all with dazzling light. Van Gogh wanted to proclaimed himself as the painter of sunflowers.
Almond Blossom (1890): Here we see a turquoise sky. Where was he standing? After the good news of Theo’s newborn child, this work was painted as a gift to the couples. Van Gogh depicted blossoms in great precision, some in bloom while others are still in bud.
Butterflies and Poppies, Giant Peacock Moth, Roses (1890): Van Gogh presented a close look at ordinary things, including the pale roses. The exploration of universal beauty is the key of Van Gogh’s art. He always wanted to convey his certain way of looking to the audience.
Irises (1890): This painting is strong and animated, elegant and powerful. It was so thickly painted that it took a month to dry.
Copies after Millet (1889): This copy of Millet’s famous work are re-presented with colors of Van Gogh’s own invention. This is like a musician interpreting the composer’s work.
Landscape at Twilight (1890): There are green and black leaves, as well as yellow light full of energy. The foreground is full of long sweeping diagonal strokes. What is the subject of this painting? The strokes themselves, which represent energy and life of nature.
Wheatfield with Crows (1890): The wheat field is as big as sea. The painting is filled with extreme loneliness. This was painted during the last week of Van Gogh’s life though not being his last work. There are a few more which were more optimistic.
Tree Roots (1890): Van Gogh is here studying tree roots, with its twisted forms. The painting was unfinished. It is the last painting of Van Gogh.