Friday, May 30, 2014

Post-Impressionism (pt. 6)

And here is where we arrive at Vincent Van Gogh.  A Dutch Impressionist painter who later moved to France, Van Gogh did not begin his career as an immediately distinguishable painter.  His early work mimics the traditional techniques of Realist artistic style, and this we can see in paintings like The Potato Eaters.
Though definitely stylized and uniquely drawn, the painting nevertheless borrows from established conventions of art theory which were still popular at that time.  The subject matter is of peasants (very Realist), and they are painted under dim light, similar to Millet's painting of The Angelus.  They are, however, characterized by a new, unrealistic look.  Van Gogh has almost drawn caricatures instead of real people.  The poor crowd around the table appear shabbily drawn, humbly undefined, and simple.  Through this technique the artist gives a statement about the Dutch lower class and how such a people were viewed by society.  This approach to subject matter is typical of Impressionism, as we have seen (such as in the works of Toulouse-Lautrec).  And the light overhead connotes God's presence with these humble folk, again very much taking from traditions of Realism and Millet.  Yet there is a boldness to the brush, isn't there?  Paint is almost scratched onto the canvas here.  The scene is painted quickly, according to Impressionist practice, but instead of a light, airy snapshot of some ephemeral moment, this scene feels heavy.  The dark colors are dense and vivid.  If Impressionism was about the study of light, then already Van Gogh here is demonstrating a level of rebellion in his own art style.
This was the early work of the artist.  His paintings are rich in color, but nowhere near the excessive overabundance which would appear in his later work.  One or two hues would suffice for his artwork, and they were always dark.  This is how he decided to paint the peasants of his Dutch home, with moody and dark overtones and a humble suppression of photorealism or image clarity in order to effect caricatures or impressions of his subject matter.  This is Impressionism, but rather dark Impressionism (if there is such a thing).  It was the artist's move to Paris that inspired his style to explode into a completely new form of art that would forever change the dynamics of art history.

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