RhinoShield Asia x Van Gogh Museum Virtual Tour
What would life be if we didn’t dare to take things in hand?
– Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, 29 December 1881
Welcome to the Van Gogh Museum virtual tour! In this article, we share our inspiration behind our new case collection, and bring you along to discover a small part of Vincent van Gogh's world and artistic journey.
With the RhinoShield x Van Gogh Museum collection, we wanted to encourage everyone to have “the courage to attempt anything”, as Van Gogh did. To convey this message, we selected pieces with distinctive painting styles to represent 3 important points in his career.
Through this series, we can observe how his iconic style was developed as a result of his many trials and experimentations with different techniques.
Life of Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most famous Dutch artists of all time. He was only active as an artist for ten years: from 1880 until his death in 1890.
As a result of his enormous passion, in those ten years Van Gogh produced an impressive body of work: about 850 paintings and more than 1300 drawings have been preserved, as well as a large number of watercolours, lithographs, and sketches in letters.
Throughout his life, Van Gogh wrote hundreds of letters to his brother Theo, and to other family members and friends. For him, these letters were an important means of communication, and an outlet for his feelings. Much of what we now know about Van Gogh's life, his background, and what he read, saw and thought, comes from his own ‘biography’: his letters.
As a painter, he was largely self-taught. With the help of textbooks, a few lessons at the art academies of Brussels and Antwerp, visits to museums, and advice from artist friends, he taught himself the craft. His introduction to modern French art movements encouraged him to experiment. As the years went by, he developed his own, highly distinctive style of painting, using expressive brushstrokes and vivid colours. This style has since inspired and influenced many subsequent generations of artists.
After Van Gogh’s death, there was a great deal of interest in the artist’s work, and almost as much fascination with his dramatic life story: his unhappy romances, his apparent lack of recognition, his illness, and his suicide.
A multifaceted artist
Some designs in the collection include a small portrait or a representative painting alongside the main artwork to illustrate Van Gogh's range as an artist, and his constant efforts to express his current self through his paintings.
‘People say – and I’m quite willing to believe it – that it’s difficult to know oneself – but it’s not easy to paint oneself either.’ – Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, 5 September 1889
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat
Van Gogh painted this self-portrait in the winter of 1887–88, when he had been in Paris for almost two years. It is clear from the work that he had studied the technique of the Pointillists and applied it in his own, original way. He placed the short stripes of paint in different directions. Where they follow the outline of his head, they form a kind of halo. The painting is also one of Van Gogh’s boldest colour experiments in Paris. He placed complementary colours alongside one another using long brushstrokes: blue and orange in the background, and red and green in the beard and eyes. The colours intensify one another. The red pigment has faded, so the purple strokes are now blue, which means the contrast with the yellow is less powerful.
Courtesan (after Eisen)
Van Gogh based this painting on a woodcut by the Japanese artist Keisai Eisen. The print had been reproduced on the cover of the magazine "Paris illustré" in 1886. Van Gogh used a grid to copy and enlarge the Japanese figure. He used bright colours and bold outlines, as if it were a woodcut. We can tell the woman is a courtesan by her hairstyle and the belt (obi) that she is wearing, which is tied at the front of her kimono rather than at the back. Van Gogh framed her with a pond full of water lilies, bamboo stems, cranes and frogs. This scene has a hidden meaning: grue (crane) and grenouille (frog) were French slang words for 'prostitute'.
Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette
This skeleton with a lit cigarette in its mouth is a juvenile joke. Van Gogh painted it in early 1886, while studying at the art academy in Antwerp. The painting shows that he had a good command of anatomy. Drawing skeletons was a standard exercise at the academy, but painting them was not part of the curriculum. He must have made this painting at some other time, between or after his lessons.
A skull is monochrome, but Van Gogh used many different colours to paint this one. Could he produce a convincing image of it in this way? This seems to have been the question in Van Gogh’s mind when he made this study in colour. He has suggested the shiny surface of the skull by zigzagging a heavy brushload of white paint across it.
Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)
Van Gogh greatly admired Japanese woodcuts for their bright colours and distinctive compositions. He based this painting of a bridge in the rain on a print by the famous artist Utagawa Hiroshige. Van Gogh made the colours more intense than in the original, however. He painted this work on a standard size canvas. He wanted to maintain the proportions of the original print and so left a border, which he filled with Japanese characters copied from other prints.
The Pink Peach Tree
Van Gogh painted many fruit orchards during his first weeks in Arles (FR). There is an earlier, nearly identical version of this painting, which Van Gogh had completed in one sitting. ‘I’d worked on a no. 20 canvas in the open air in an orchard — ploughed lilac field, a reed fence — two pink peach trees against a glorious blue and white sky. Probably the best landscape I’ve done’, he wrote. When he returned home, he saw the death notice of Anton Mauve (1838-1888), his uncle by marriage. Mauve was a well-known painter from whom Van Gogh had once taken lessons. He dedicated that first work to Mauve and made this new version later to send to Theo.
Van Gogh’s paintings of Sunflowers are among his most famous. He did them in Arles, in the south of France, in 1888 and 1889. Vincent painted a total of five large canvases with sunflowers in a vase, with three shades of yellow ‘and nothing else’. In this way, he demonstrated that it was possible to create an image with numerous variations of a single colour, without any loss of eloquence. The sunflower paintings had a special significance for Van Gogh: they communicated ‘gratitude’, he wrote. He hung the first two in the room of his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin, who came to live with him for a while in the Yellow House. Gauguin was impressed by the sunflowers, which he thought were ‘completely Vincent’. Van Gogh had already painted a new version during his friend’s stay and Gauguin later asked for one as a gift, which Vincent was reluctant to give him. He later produced two loose copies, however, one of which is now in the Van Gogh Museum.
Large blossom branches like this against a blue sky were one of Van Gogh’s favourite subjects. Almond trees flower early in the spring making them a symbol of new life. Van Gogh borrowed the subject, the bold outlines and the positioning of the tree in the picture plane from Japanese printmaking. The painting was a gift for his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo, who had just had a baby son, Vincent Willem. In the letter announcing the new arrival, Theo wrote: ‘As we told you, we’ll name him after you, and I’m making the wish that he may be as determined and as courageous as you.’ Unsurprisingly, it was this work that remained closest to the hearts of the Van Gogh family. Vincent Willem went on to found the Van Gogh Museum.
Van Gogh painted this still life in the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy. For him, the painting was mainly a study in colour. He set out to achieve a powerful colour contrast. By placing the purple flowers against a yellow background, he made the decorative forms stand out even more strongly. The irises were originally purple. But as the red pigment has faded, they have turned blue. Van Gogh made two paintings of this bouquet. In the other still life he contrasted purple and pink with green.
Wheatfield with Crows
Wheatfield with Crows is one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings. It is often claimed that this was his very last work. The menacing sky, the crows and the dead-end path are said to refer to the end of his life approaching. But that is just a persistent myth. In fact, he made several other works after this one. Van Gogh did want his wheatfields under stormy skies to express 'sadness, extreme loneliness', but at the same time he wanted to show what he considered 'healthy and fortifying about the countryside'. Van Gogh used powerful colour combinations in this painting: the blue sky contrasts with the yellow-orange wheat, while the red of the path is intensified by the green bands of grass.
Inspiring the next generation
It is an honour for us to have the opportunity to help make Van Gogh's works more accessible to a wider audience in the way we know best: protected in the strongest frame, faithfully presented with the highest print and color quality, and available at the palm of your hands. We hope this collection will inspire you to try learning a new skill, discover a new hobby, and keep in mind that there are no failures, only valuable experiences.