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vincent van gogh: the drawings

Post #692 • December 22, 2005, 2:36 PM • 22 Comments

Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings, an Artblog.net Publication.

Comment

1.

mek

December 22, 2005, 7:50 PM

wonderful
just wonderful

i am so sad i cannot see the show for it will be down by the end of the month.
and so nostalgic for manhattan in december.
i think a trip to the met is in short order for the new year.

thanks for the post. this may be one of my favorites. i will now go back to review again.

2.

George

December 22, 2005, 9:19 PM

Nice job Franklin. This was an absolutly killer exhibition.

For those interested, here's a Van Gogh website with illustrations of every one of his works (some are sucky but good enough to get the idea from)

Van Gogh is one of those artists whose popularity works against him as viewers make a mental image for Van Gogh and leave it at that with the assumption they know Van Gogh. The reality is quite the contrary, I look at all 800 paintings on the website above about once a week, it is an amazing experience to see how the work developed chronologically. VG goes to Paris, and the affect of the other artists and thinking is immediately visible in the work.

As you noted the painting and drawing converge in the late work in a way which I think may be unique in the history of art (except Pollock, anyone else come to mind?) After his exposure to Paris, one sees the ideas of impressionism enter the work, the change in marking and the approach to color. Rather than adopting an 'impressionist style' Van Gogh worked his way through it. Initially the marks, both in the paintings and drawings were impressionistic, capturing an impression of color, light or texture. In the later works the paintings become the marks themselves and their rhythm

One of the things this exhibition should do is debunk some of the romantic nonsense surrounding Van Gogh. The drawings are firm evidence of rigorous study and observation along with the development of a powerful stylistic coding using the brush/pen marks. The idea that these works are somehow a frenzied expression is complete nonsense, try and do it and you'll soon see you can't. The drawings are so obsessively precise and at the same time utilize an amazing array of compositional devices to organize the picture space.

Take the Zouave[5] or Harvest in Provence [10-11] Both drawings have an amazing array of marking effects from dot to hash. The landscape, and Van Goghs landscapes in general have a marvelous structural organization which walks you into the painting space.

Van Gogh made several paintings of the same subject or local, here are three pictures of the same field done over a 6 month period in 1889
Mountainous Landscape Behind Saint-Paul Hospital (Jun1889)
Wheat Field in Rain (Nov 1889)
Enclosed Field with Rising Sun (Dec 1889)

Who here said it didn't matter if you could draw today?

3.

wwc

December 22, 2005, 10:59 PM

Really nice piece Franklin. Its great to read chunks of writing next to images like this, much better than most reviews I see. Drawing and pinting becoming one, that's exactly him.

I also like your point about VG as a blogger - one who is ignored by the larger artworld but finds a small, scattered audience for his endeavors. I'm glad he didn"t have a scanner and html so we get more drawings rom him to look at now.

4.

Jack

December 22, 2005, 11:12 PM

Excellent piece, Franklin. The work in question speaks for itself rather better than I could, but it is exceedingly beautiful--it breathes. It is simply itself, a true extension of its creator. I got more, considerably more, out of seeing these small, reproduced images than I typically do out of seeing museums full of stuff around here. Obviously, something is amiss. Thanks.

5.

George

December 22, 2005, 11:12 PM

What is also astounding is the sheer volume of work he produced in the relatively short period of time between 1881 and 1890. In a period of nine years he made 860 paintings, that's an average of 95 paintings a year, about one every four days, including a drawing or two to go along with it.

6.

Jack

December 22, 2005, 11:32 PM

I want to mention that first-rate drawing is pretty common in etchings made during the so-called Etching Revival in France, England and America in the second half of the 19th century. Much of it is by artists who are now known only to a specialized audience, but it is wonderful work nonetheless.

7.

George

December 22, 2005, 11:48 PM

I don't know all the art historical details but I think Van Gogh drawing has some of it's roots in Durer's woodcuts and a the common type of illustrational woodcut of the period. There are certain affinities with the kind of mark the reed pen makes, it's a stronger line then an etching. Whatever he took it to another place.

Jack, can you cough up a link or two on those obscure artists you mentioned?

8.

George

December 22, 2005, 11:51 PM

I don't know all the art historical details but I think Van Gogh drawing has some of it's roots in Durer's woodcuts and a the common type of illustrational woodcut of the period. There are certain affinities with the kind of mark the reed pen makes, it's a stronger line then an etching. Whatever he took it to another place.

Jack, can you cough up a link or two on those obscure artists you mentioned?

9.

Franklin

December 22, 2005, 11:53 PM

It's not impossible to see antecedents of VG's line work in some of the broad-nib sepia drawings of Rembrandt. I can't recall anyone using reed pens before VG, though. Was that a Japanese import?

Yeah, Jack, let's have some links.

10.

George

December 23, 2005, 12:16 AM

I think the reed pens must have been fairly common, a variant on the quill pen. I'll bet if you look at woodcut illustrations from the period they use a handful of hatching techniques to render things and it looks like Van Gogh picked up on this.

What is more interesting to me is how this drawing style evolved. Initially it was somewhat predictable but by the end, Old Vineyard with Peasant Woman[15] the drawing had taken on a life of its own as Van Gogh had assimilated all the codified marks and was now using them intuitively as a language, just as if he was writing a story.

The work is truly extrordinary

11.

oldpro

December 23, 2005, 2:05 AM

As one who likes the drawings more than the paintings and who missed the show when in NYC I reall appreciuate this. Thanks! They are excellent, of course, and your comments about the figure vs the landscape are good and could be expanded on.

I am sure part of the similarty to Durer woodcuts and Rembrandt drawings is a matter of the pressure put on the tool, which in turn is an expression of energy and confidence.

12.

jordan

December 23, 2005, 5:08 AM

Oldpro, presure with the tool is right on.
Turning and rolling the tool is also an important methode - it's not easy to teach this because it invoves feeling the weight of the subject while percieving the form (and pose with the figure for instance) and the textural substance or properties of the subjects.The likeness comes not from the appearance of the thing(s) drawn but the vicseral response one has with the tool while reacting to the thing(s) physical presence.
One must try to understand perceptually at least two forces in nature - light and gravity. At least this is how I see it.
Some of Van Gogh's drawings appear to be more like designs of nature, while others such as #3 and #4 have sculptural and atmospheric force. He had the ability however to understand the elements of nature and depict them by feeling what they do. For instance his water and grasses blow in the wind, his trees thrust from the earth from which they where born, and his air is moist at times, and quick at others. Thus his marks are the conceptual result of his perceptual response to natures' forces.

13.

jordan

December 23, 2005, 5:19 AM

Oh, and another thing, it's not easy to use paint this way without painting in an expressionist / post - impressionist style. I tried it once with a pig head and it seemed to work, but my colors were too "cheap and tacky" , although they reflected both what I saw in terms of color correctness, and how I felt about what I was witnessing in front of me. I was for many 40 minute bursts "Lord of the Flies'.

14.

George

December 23, 2005, 5:38 AM

it's not easy to use paint this way without painting in an expressionist / post - impressionist style. That's an understatement ;-)

Impressionism was definitely a major impetus on the development of his style. In the late paintings he was able to fuse the painting and drawing in a way which was no longer 'impressionist'.

15.

oldpro

December 23, 2005, 6:02 AM

Some nice description in #12, Jordan

16.

Germain

December 23, 2005, 7:28 AM

Thank you Franklin, the Van Gogh pictures are much appreciated.

For anyone interested, the MOMA website has a very good online exhibit of the current Redon show, "Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon".

17.

Jack

December 23, 2005, 9:56 AM

What? You people don't know about the etched work of Jacque, Daubigny, Millet, Meryon, Bracquemond, Appian, Legros, and Lalanne, to stick with the French? Or Whistler and Seymour Haden? What do you all do in your spare time, read ArtJournal? Or perhaps pore over Modern Art Notes? I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you. Whistler would have been appalled.

Seriously, there is at least one instance where Van Gogh based a painting (In the Prison Courtyard, now in Moscow) on a contemporary graphic work he'd seen and admired. It was an illustration by Gustave Doré of a prison exercise yard, made for a book on life in London, including its seamy underside. Van Gogh was taken with the grim but poignant realism of many of Doré's images, and wrote "it was extraordinary the feeling and beauty of it. My respect increases for the great draftsman of the people." Doré was probably the most famous illustrator of his time, a feverishly imaginative born draftsman who tackled everything (the Bible, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, classic fairy tales, you name it). But, I am quite certain, you all know Doré.

18.

Germain

December 23, 2005, 10:42 AM

Yes, Jack, and one of my most prized possessions from my father is a torn, worn and battered leather-bound edition of the Inferno with illustrations by Dore...

19.

Franklin

December 23, 2005, 10:45 AM

The Dore prison yard was up in an ancillary exhibition called "In Line with Van Gogh," the next room over from the VG drawing show. It also had some Rembrandt etchings, the Hokusai wave, and other works on paper thought to have influenced VG.

20.

jordan

December 23, 2005, 1:37 PM

It must have been a great show - I googled the Dore prison yard and could'nt find it. But I'd like to see your book Germain.
Thanks for this post Franklin.

21.

Jack

December 23, 2005, 11:22 PM

Jordan, go here for the prison yard:

http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/skilton/images/dore/Dore137.jpg

Then go here for other images taken from the same book:

http://www.cf.ac.uk/encap/skilton/illustr/index.html

Remember, though, that you're looking at published wood engravings (which is what Van Gogh saw) based on the original drawings, not the drawings themselves. Doré was so successful and prolific that at one time he employed over 40 highly skilled craftsmen to turn his drawings into engravings.

22.

Jack

December 25, 2005, 6:12 AM

Check these 19th century French etchings out before they vanish:

http://www.martin2001.com/une-apres-midi-harpignies-LIVDOR-1883-.jpg

http://www.martin2001.com/riviere-deure-yon-LIVDOR-1882-.jpg

Both are by the same etcher (Edmund Yon), but the first one is after a work by the Barbizon painter Henri Harpignies, who was no mean draftsman. The second one was designed and etched by Yon.

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