What Type of Art Did Van Gogh Paint?

By Janice Tingum
Vincent van Gogh painted 34 self-portraits.

Vincent van Gogh was born March 30, 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. As a teenager and young adult, he worked for an art dealer. His interest in art increased, and he began copying prints of master artists. Van Gogh received his first commission when his uncle, an art dealer, asked him to draw scenes of The Hague, Netherlands. Van Gogh later moved to France, where his painting style became more expressive and his colors lighter. In his lifetime, van Gogh created hundreds of paintings and drawings. Van Gogh died July 29, 1890. Although he was unable to support himself with his art while living, van Gogh is now a highly regarded artist, and his art is on exhibit in major museums around the world.

Materials

Van Gogh made more than 800 paintings using oil paints. “Starry Night” is an example of an oil painting van Gogh made on a canvas. Van Gogh also painted with watercolors. One of his earliest watercolor pieces was “Coalmine in the Borinage,” painted in 1879. In addition to paintings, van Gogh created drawings, letter sketches, lithographs and an etching. “Baby in a Carriage” was one of the last drawings van Gogh completed.

Subjects

The subjects of van Gogh’s art included people, the landscape and still life. His figurative paintings, such as “The Potato Eaters,” frequently featured peasants doing everyday tasks. He also painted portraits of the Roulin family, whom he befriended in France. When he had difficulty finding models, he painted self-portraits. Van Gogh’s landscapes sometimes featured a close-up of a tree or building; other times he painted panoramic scenes from cities and the countryside. Van Gogh is also known for his paintings of sunflowers.

Impressionism

Van Gogh’s early paintings, such as “The Potato Eaters,” were very dark and serious. When he moved to Paris in 1886, he was influenced by the art of Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists who were exhibiting there, as well as by Japanese prints. Like the Impressionists, van Gogh began using broken brushstrokes of paint and lighter colors in his work. Some of the Neo-Impressionist painters such as Georges Seurat stippled small dots of paint on the canvas. Van Gogh used this pointillist method in some of his paintings, including “Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat” done in 1887-1888.

Post-Impressionism

Van Gogh left Paris in 1888, but remained in France. He continued to experiment in his painting approaches. Some of his paintings, such as “Orchard with Blossoming Apricot Trees,” demonstrated a Japanese influence. Paintings such as “Starry Night” were painted with intense color. Instead of conforming to the ideas of Impressionism, he expressed individuality in his work. Art historians note that van Gogh’s art contains symbols, such as flowers representing the sun. “Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers” is a piece from van Gogh’s sunflower series. Van Gogh’s work from the last few years of his life are now called Post-Impressionistic. Van Gogh and other Post-Impressionist painters are regarded as forerunners of modern art.

About the Author

Janice Tingum has been writing professionally since 1979. She is the author of the biography "E.B. White: The Elements of a Writer" and her articles have appeared in “Lady’s Circle” and “Today’s Christian Woman” magazines. Tingum also paints and writes art instruction ebooks.