Monday, February 19, 2007

Van Gogh, colour and a colour study

"Lines in a Languedoc Landscape" - a colour study - after Van Gogh
11" x 14" pen and sepia ink and coloured pencil
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is the previous pen and ink drawing done as part of this month's Van Gogh project further developed through the addition of colour. I decided that rather than working from the photo and colour sketch I'd try basing it on the Van Gogh's colours in his painting The Harvest (painted during the harvest in June 1888) to develop this piece.
Depicting the Harvest The vast landscape has been built up in horizontal planes; in the foreground lies the harvested wheat, while in the background the purple-blue mountains rise up into the turquoise air. (Van Gogh Museum)
I was conscious of trying to use the complementary colours which Van Gogh seemed to favour - blue/greens and oranges and yellows and mauve/purples (see below for more about this). Overall, it has resulted in the drawing having much more saturated colour and being brighter than I might have done if I'd been following the rather more muted colours from the day of the original sketch - on which the Mistral blew making everything seem rather hazy.

Van Gogh's letters contain some 324 references to colours. The Van Gogh Musuem also has some interesting narrative about use of colour:
  • the way in which Van Gogh changed his palette
Experiments in colour: Soon after arriving in Paris (in 1886), Van Gogh senses how outmoded his dark-hued palette has become. He paints studies of flowers, which Theo describes as "finger exercises"-practice pieces in which he tries to "render intense color and not a gray harmony." Van Gogh keeps balls of wool with threads in different hues-red and orange, blue and yellow, orange and gray-to sample and test the effect of different color combinations. His palette gradually lightens, and his sensitivity to color in the landscape intensifies. Van Gogh regularly paints outdoors in Asnières, a village near Paris where the Impressionists often set up their easels. Later, he writes to his sister Wil: "And when I painted the landscape in Asnières this summer, I saw more colors there than ever before."
  • the brightness and colour contrasts associated with his work after Japanese prints "Van Gogh used different, brighter colors, or enhanced the color contrasts."
  • his use of still life for experiments with colour
Still Lifes as Color Studies: During his Paris period, Van Gogh painted a number of still lifes. Based on scientific theories of color, they were designed to help him understand the effects of various color combinations. He experimented with contrasting pairs of colors, such as blue and orange, red and green, or yellow and purple. He first painted a series of flower still lifes in which the subdued tones are increasingly replaced by bright, unmixed colors. He then turned his attention to various other subjects – books, fruit, plants, shellfish, glass – all captured on canvas in brilliant color and with a loose brushstroke. (click the link to see examples of the still life color studies at the bottom of the web page)

  • Finally, a A current exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum also focuses on "Hidden Colors" Red, yellow and blue in the early paintings of Vincent van Gogh. The exhibition closes on 7 October 2007.
I've also included Marion Boddy-Evans's neat summary about the palettes and techniques of Van Gogh on the website.

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  1. Katherine, I've really been enjoying the project. I'm starting an art career later in life than I would have liked, and am also learning on my own. Learning about Van Gogh's life and his art has been very inspirational to me, mostly because so much of his artwork is not. Sometimes I wonder what in the world he was thinking... then I remember he had mental problems, and decide it's best that I don't.

    Sorry your PC has gone flakey. - Lisa B.

  2. I very much enjoyed the About dot com post about VG's use of color.
    I experienced the same kind of color re-birth as VG when I moved from gloomy, marine-weathered Western Washington to the inland side of the Cascade mountains. It actually was too sunny for me at first (it was drying out the moss behind my ears, you see).
    But, the color that comes with more sun helped me get over all gray paintings.
    You are well ahead of me in adding color to a work. I wish that I had done this wonderful big landscape. I need to do more complex drawings/paintings in the realist mode. The evidence of VG's palette are present.
    I think that artists and art teachers are too fond of minimizing compliments and bright colors. When we try a few, the outcome can be quite pleasing, and we may still preserve our realism (if we must!)
    Also, I don't know if anyone has mentioned lately the effect that putting oil paint in little tin tubes had for the artists in VG's day.

  3. Thanks for the link Katherine! Van Gogh is a favorite of mine, and I've greatly been enjoying reading about your explorations with him.

  4. A puzzle ?

    There is very little cereal growing in Languedoc today. The climate is too dry. Virtually no rain falls for 6 months on the plains and the hills are not suitable for growing cereals.

    The landscape is best known for rice in the camargue with vine, olives, and lavender inland. Higher ground and The Cevennes have the scrub of the Garrigue.

    So, where did he draw this ?

    Irrigation water has arrived since Van Gogh. It is used for market gardening and fruit growing rather than cereals.

    Some photos of the landscape today :


  5. Peter - Thanks for the comment but I think maybe you've misunderstood.

    This is my drawing of a view I have previously sketched in the Languedoc. It's just below Fanjeaux (about three years ago) - which is west of Carcassonne. It is not based on a Van Gogh work.

    The intention of the project is to try and understand more about the artist and then apply it to our own work. So this is me trying some of his approaches on a scene I'm familiar with and which comes from (nearly) the right part of France.

    See my earlier threads (both referenced as links) for further explanation:
    * After Van Gogh: Drawing the Languedoc
    * More Mistral sketching from the car

    So far as the location of Van Gogh's harvest is concerned, the reference books and his letters indicate that it is in the plain of La Crau and scenes from Montmajour. (The drawings of the harvest and the plain are known as "Montmajour - the second series"). This is the plain which is east of Arles and south of Saint Remy de Provence. (See map of Provence) I drove through that area some years back in September and there was certainly wheat growing there then (and sunflowers etc). I don't know when the irrigation arrived but irrigation systems in many parts of the world are very old.

    I would imagine that the climate in Provence might have been different when Van Gogh was painting there. Everything has been warming up since then (global warming etc) - they've even started planting olive trees at Kew Gardens in London!

    Also hyperlinks never show up in comments unless you have entered code in the right way. Blogger has set it up like that to avoid spamming - not that you are, but just so you know.

  6. You must be pleased with this one, Katherine! I can't stop looking at it. Amazing the difference this palette makes. I went back to look at your original colour sketch of the scene (which I really liked) but this one is stunning.

  7. Thanks Robyn. Thanks also to Lisa, Casey and Marion for comments.

    I think we maybe underestimate the extent to which Van Gogh's popularity is due to his use of very solid saturated colour. It's my belief that people love colour - and indeed anything which brightens up their lives!

    He's certainly making me think more about when I can go bolder and more saturated with colour (and I thought I was pretty good with colour anyway! [ironic raised eyebrow!] )

  8. Just thought I would add that the Arles area has Roman history. Any clue there about irrigation?
    BTW, we grow wheat here with 11 inches or so of rain annually.
    I put your wonderful drawing next to VG's Harvest on my screen to compare colors. Much fun, and I still say I wish I had drawn this one, Katherine.


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