Van Gogh Self Portrait


To Continue in the vein of Expressionism, we move to Van Gogh. Van Gogh is often thought of as the most “well known” artist due possibly to the fact that he embodies the steriotypical concept of the crazy/genius-starving artist who cuts his own ear off, defies his parents, and paints from the deepest recesses of his emotion–hence the title “Expressionist” is given to embody his style. Often if you look at Van Gogh, primarily his later paintings, there is a wild energy and movement  that swirls around the canvas.

Probably most famously known contemporarily by his painting “Starry Night,” where the colors and forms lift off the page (literally, Van Gogh’s paintings are a half inch thick off the canvas), Van Gogh also was known for his Self-Portraits. This painting specifically holds a certain significance for me because I was able to personally see this painting at the Norton Simon Museum.

If you look at this painting, first what pops out is the color. The deep blue that surrounds Van Gogh is a deep blue that swirls around him. The color at points seems to blend with his own clothes. There is again that energy that I spoke of earlier surrounding Van Gogh. This wild energy, I believe, is a symptom of Van Gogh’s mental state at the time. At this time of his life, Van Gogh was struggling with his sanity, and so as the colors in his paiting get wilder and more vibrant, I believe that Van Gogh’s internal conflicts were complicating. Coincidentally, some of Van Gogh’s most beautiful works “The Mulberry Tree”, “Lilacs” come from the period where Van Gogh was at a sort of housing for the mentally ill. Back to the painting, if you look at Van Gogh’s skin coloring, it has a greenish hugh to it which again goes to reflect his possible self acknowledgment of his own internal sickness.

For further reference check out these paintings: Starry Night, Mulberry Tree, Peach Blossom in the Crau



Expressionism-The Roots

I thought to begin with Expressionism because it lies between the 19th and 20th century, and because it is fairly easy to enjoy the artists of expressionism without a thorough knowledge of the history or purpose of the movement.

Expressionism, although possible to trace it roots to the middle of the 19th century, doesn’t  become an “ism” until 1911 in Germany. Expressionism, as opposed to Impressionism, gives power to perspective, meaning that what is most important in the painting is not how “real” the painting looks, or how close to fact the picture is the image, but instead what is most important is how the picture reflects the AUTHORS INTERPRETATION of the subject.

Many say that Edvard Munch, a Norwegian painter, and Van Gogh were the painting precursurs to Expressionism. You may be familiar with Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream” (1893).

Edvard Munch - The_Scream


Typical of the Expressionist style, Munch uses wild colors and forms to express the panic and turmoil of the subject. The painting lacks depth in places and is clearly not a portrayal of what one would deem “realist” but instead a wildly personal interpretation of the location and the event.

Interesting enough, expressionism grew alongside and even tailed Germany’s industrial revolution, and it may be that this “dehumanization” of industry, and this devaluation of the individual gave rise to the intense individualism in Expressionism. The industrial revolution, to a certain extent, didn’t value a human for much more than their ability to produce and create and labor along side others. It was an ocean of laborers that the German Expressionists were trying to wade as they fought to sustain the beauty of a human’s individuality.