It is nearly impossible to look back through art history and not encounter the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. Today, van Gogh is widely regarded as one of the most important participants in one of the most pivotal artistic styles to date: Post-Impressionism. Expanding upon the Impressionist ideals of capturing a moment, the Post-Impressionists sought to capture emotions, focusing on themes with deep symbolism. Thick brushwork, vivid coloring, and poignant undertones formed the deeply personal canvasses of these revolutionary young artists. For van Gogh, his real-life subjects became conduits for his own personal expression, which can be seen throughout the development of his distinctive style.
Gaining momentum as an artist in his early twenties, van Gogh was motivated by copying prints from formal 19th-century drawing manuals. Focusing on mastering correct perspective in landscape paintings, van Gogh’s early training exposes a self-taught trial and error that was soon complemented by formal training from Anton Mauve, a leading Hague School painter, in 1882. A pivotal year it truly was, as van Gogh transitioned from drawing to oil painting, which would become the principal medium of his career.
Unquestionably influenced by Barbizon artists such as Jean-Francois Millet, van Gogh was attracted to depicting rural life and landscape infused with explosive energy, earthy tones, and symbolic importance. His work, La Chaumière sous Les Arbres, reflects exactly that mentality. Showing van Gogh’s intense fascination with the simple life of peasantry, this important landscape work was painted during a two-year period in which Van Gogh solely looked to rural cottages and the landscape scenes around him.
Paralleling his own deep essence with the strongly symbolic and meaningful nature of his work, van Gogh’s landscapes are undoubtedly the most telling of this important period in his career. Thick, broad brushwork in earthy tones pervades the work, which depicts a Nuenen cottage in an intimate, quiet setting. Earthy browns and deep greens are heightened by an infusion of lighter color in the sky and wildflowers. This shift towards a lighter color palette, prompted by a suggestion from his brother, is indicative of one of the most significant shifts in van Gogh’s career. A color play of dark and light parallels the quiet, tranquil scene infused with expressive, energetic brushwork. And by depicting just a single peasant, van Gogh fashions a deep connection between the figure and the earth.
On par with the big names of art history such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, van Gogh’s influence reaches far and wide. In the art and antiques world, his iconic style re-introduces itself time and time again as later artists continued to take cues from his thick, energetic brushwork and symbolic subject matter.