Painting Exhibition: Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism

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Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist's Smock

Vincent van Gogh painting, Self-portrait with a straw hat and artist's smock, 1887.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist's Smock, 1887. Oil on cardboard, 40.8 x 32.7 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Stichting).

The Impact Van Gogh had on German and Austrian Expressionist painters.

Van Gogh's influence is evident in many Expressionist works as painters emulated his use of pure, bright colors, his emphatic brushwork, and his contrasting color combinations in their own paintings. Museum directors and private collectors in both Germany and Austria were among the first to start buying Van Gogh's paintings and by 1914 there were more than 160 of his works in German and Austrian collections. Traveling exhibitions helped to expose a generation of young artists to Van Gogh's expressive works.

Get an understanding for the impact Vincent van Gogh had on German and Austrian Expressionist painters with this photo gallery of paintings from the Van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition held at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (24 November 2006 to 4 March 2007) and the Neue Galerie in New York (23 March to 2 July 2007). By showing works by Van Gogh side by side with works by young Expressionist painters, this exhibition reveals the full extent of his influence on other painters.

Vincent van Gogh painted a lot of self-portraits, experimenting with various techniques and approaches (and saving money on a model!). Many, including this one, are not finished to the same level of detail throughout, but are psychologically powerful nonetheless. Van Gogh's style of self-portrait (the poses, the intense brushwork, the introspective expression) influenced the portraits created by Expressionist painters such as Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, and Lovis Corinth.

Vincent van Gogh believed that "Painted portraits have a life of their own, something that comes from the roots of the painter's soul, which a machine cannot touch. The more often people look at photos, the more they will feel this, it seems to me."
(Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, from Antwerp, c.15 December 1885.)

This self-portrait is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which opened in 1973. The museum holds some 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters by Van Gogh, as well as his personal collection of Japanese prints. The works originally belonged to Vincent's brother Theo (1857-1891), then passed to his wife, and then her son, Vincent Willem van Gogh (1890-1978). In 1962 he transferred the works to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, where they form the nucleus of the Van Gogh Museum's collection.

See Also:
• Detail from this painting

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Detail from Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist's Smock

Detail of Van Gogh Self Portrait with Straw Hat
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Detail of Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist's Smock by Vincent van Gogh, 1887. Oil on cardboard, 40.8 x 32.7 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Stichting).

This detail from Van Gogh's Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat and Artist's Smock clearly shows how he used pure color with very defined, directional brush strokes. Think of it as a less extreme form of Pointillism. When you view the painting from close up, you see the individual brush strokes and colors; when you step back they blend visually. The 'trick' as a painter is to be familiar enough with your colors and tones for this to be effective.

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Oskar Kokoschka: Hirsch as an Old Man

Oskar Kokoschka, Hirsch as an old man, 1907.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Hirsch as an Old Man, 1907. Oil on canvas, 70 x 62.5 cm. Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz.

Oskar Kokoschka's portraits "are remarkable for their portrayal of the sitter's inner sensibility – or, more realistically, Kokoschka's own."

Kokoschka said in 1912 that when he was working "there is an outpouring of feeling into the image which becomes, as it were, the soul's plastic embodiment."

(Quote source: Styles, Schools and Movements by Amy Dempsey, Thames and Hudson, p72)

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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: Self-Portrait

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Self-portrait, 1906.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Self-Portrait, 1906. Oil on canvas, 44 x 32 cm. Stiftung Seebüll Ada und Emil Nolde, Seebüll.

The German Expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the artists declared degenerate by the Nazis, having hundreds of his paintings confiscated in 1938 and, in 1941, being forbidden to paint. He was born in Rottluff near Chemnitz (Saxonia) on 1 December 1884 and died in Berlin on 10 August 1976.

This painting shows his use of strong color and intense brushmarks, both characteristic elements of his early paintings. If you thought Van Gogh loved impasto, take a look at this detail from Schmidt-Rottluff's self-portrait!

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Detail from Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Self-Portrait

Expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Self-Portrait, 1906. Oil on canvas, 44 x 32 cm. Stiftung Seebüll Ada und Emil Nolde, Seebüll. Stiftung Seebüll Ada und Emil Nolde, Seebüll.

This detail from Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Self-Portrait shows how thickly he used paint. Also take a careful look at the range of colors he used, how unrealistic but effective they are for skin tones, and how little he's mixed his colors on the canvas.

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Erich Heckel: Seated Man

Erich Heckel, Seated Man, 1909
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Erich Heckel (1883-1970), Seated Man, 1909. Oil on canvas, 70.5 x 60 cm. Private collection, Courtesy Neue Galerie New York.

Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff became friends while still at school. After school Heckel studied architecture, but didn't finish his studies. Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff were two of the founders of the Brucke (Bridge) group of artists in Dresden in 1905. (The others were Fritz Bleyl and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.)

Heckel was among the Expressionists who was declared degenerate by the Nazis, and his paintings confiscated.

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Egon Schiele: Self-Portrait With Arm Twisting Above Head

Egon Schiele, Self-portrait, 1910.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Self-Portrait With Arm Twisting Above Head, 1910. Gouache, watercolor, charcoal, and pencil on paper, 42.5 x 29.5 cm. Private collection, Courtesy Neue Galerie New York.

Like Fauvism, Expressionism was "characterized by the use of symbolic colors and exaggerated imagery, though the German manifestations generally present a darker vision of humanity than those of the French." (Quote source: Styles, Schools and Movements by Amy Dempsey, Thames and Hudson, p70)

The paintings and self-portraits of Egon Schiele certainly show a dark view of life; during his short career he was at the "vanguard of the Expressionist preoccupation with psychological exploration". (Quote source: The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke, Oxford University Press, p681)

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Emil Nolde: White Tree Trunks

Emil Nolde, White tree trunks, 1908.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Emil Nolde (1867-1956), White Tree Trunks, 1908. Oil on canvas, 67.5 x 77.5 cm. Brücke-museum, Berlin.

As he developed as a painter, Emil Nolde's "handling became looser and freer in order, as he put it, to 'make something concentrated and simple out of all this complexity'." (Quote source: Styles, Schools and Movements by Amy Dempsey, Thames and Hudson, p71)

See Also:
• Detail of White Tree Trunks

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Detail from Emil Nolde's White Tree Trunks

From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Emil Nolde (1867-1956), White Tree Trunks, 1908. Oil on canvas, 67.5 x 77.5 cm. Brücke-museum, Berlin.

One can't help wondering what Vincent van Gogh would have made of Emil Nolde's paintings. In 1888 Van Gogh wrote this to his brother, Theo:

"Who will there be to achieve for figure painting what Claude Monet has achieved for landscape? However, you must feel, as I do, that someone like that is on the way ... the painter of the future will be a colorist the like of which has never yet been seen. Manet was getting there but, as you know, the Impressionists have already made use of stronger color than Manet has."
(Quote source: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, from Arles, c.4 May 1888.)

See Also:
• Palettes of the Masters: Monet
• Techniques of the Impressionists: What Colors are Shadows?
• The Judgement of Paris: Manet, Meissonier, and an Artistic Revolution
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Vincent van Gogh: The Road Menders

Vincent van Gogh, The road menders, 1889.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 92.5 cm. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

"Absolute black does not really exist. But like white, it is present in almost every color, and forms the endless variety of grays -- different in tone and strength. So that in nature one really sees nothing else but those tones or shades.

"There are but three fundamental colors -- red, yellow, and blue; 'composites' are orange, green, and purple. By adding black and some white one gets the endless varieties of grays – red gray, yellow-gray, blue-gray, green-gray, orange-gray, violet-gray.

"It is impossible to say, for instance, how many green-grays there are; there is an endless variety. But the whole chemistry of colors is not more complicated than those few simple rules. And having a clear notion of this is worth more than 70 different colors of paint -- because with those three principal colors and black and white, one can make more than 70 tones and varieties. The colorist is the person who knows at once how to analyze a color, when it sees it in nature, and can say, for instance: that green-gray is yellow with black and blue, etc. In other words, someone who knows how to find the grays of nature on their palette."

(Quote source: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, 31 July 1882.)

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Gustav Klimt: Orchard

Orchard painting by Gustav Klimt
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Orchard, c.1905. Oil on canvas, 98.7 x 99.4 cm. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Patrons Art Fund.

Gustav Klimt is known to have painted around 230 paintings, of which more than 50 are landscapes. Unlike many Expressionist paintings, Klimt's landscapes have a calmness about them, and don't have the bright colors (nor gold leaf) of his later figure paintings, such as Hope II.

"Klimt's inner passion was for making his understanding more real -- focusing on what constituted the essence of things behind their mere physical appearance." (Quote source: Gustav Klimt Landscapes, Translated by Ewald Osers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p12)

Klimt said: "Whoever wants to know something about me -- as an artist, the only notable thing -- ought to look carefully at my pictures and try to see in them what I am and what I want to do." (Quote source: Gustav Klimt by Frank Whitford, Collins and Brown, p7)

See Also
• The Bloch-Bauer Klimt Paintings (Art History)

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Nollendorf Square

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorf square, 1912
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ((1880-1938), Nollendorf Square, 1912. Oil on canvas, 69 x 60 cm. Stiftung Dr. Otto und Ilse Augustin, Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin.

"Painting is the art which represents a phenomenon of feeling on a plane surface. The medium employed in painting, for both background and line, is color … Today photography reproduces an object exactly. Painting, liberated from the need to do so, regains freedom of action … The work of art is born from the total translation of personal ideas in execution."
-- Ernst Kirchner

(Quote source: Styles, Schools and Movements by Amy Dempsey, Thames and Hudson, p77)

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Wassily Kandinsky: Murnau Street with Women

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau street with women, 1908
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Murnau Street with Women, 1908. Oil on cardboard, 71 x 97 cm. Private collection, Courtesy Neue Galerie New York.

This painting is fine example of Van Gogh's influence on the Expressionists, especially in terms of having an emotional approach to landscape painting.

"1. Every artist, as creator, must learn to express what is personally characteristic. (The element of personality.)

"2. Every artist, as a child of his era, must express what is characteristic of this age. (The element of style in its interior value, consisting of the language of the times and the language of the people.)

"3. Every artist, as servant of the art, must express that which is characteristic of art generally. (The element of pure and eternal art, found among all human beings, among all peoples and at all times, and which appears in the work of all artists of all nations and in all ages and which does not obey, as essential element of art, any law of space or time.)"

-- Wassily Kandinsky in his About the Spiritual in Art and Especially in Painting.

See Also:
• Artist's Quotes: Kandinsky
• Kandinsky Profile (Art History)

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August Macke: Vegetable Fields

August Macke, Vegetable fields, 1911.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition August Macke (1887-1914), Vegetable Fields, 1911. Oil on canvas, 47.5 x 64 cm. Kunstmuseum Bonn.

August Macke was a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) Expressionist group. He was killed in the First World War, in September 1914.

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Otto Dix: Sunrise

Otto Dix, Sunrise, 1913
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Otto Dix (1891-1969), Sunrise, 1913. Oil on canvas, 51 x 66 cm. Private collection.

Otto Dix served an apprenticeship to an interior decorator from 1905 to 1909, before going on to study at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts until 1914, when the First World War started and he was drafted.

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Egon Schiele: Autumn Sun

Egon Schiele, Autumn Sun, 1914.
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Autumn Sun, 1914. Oil on canvas, 100 x 120.5 cm. Private Collection, Courtesy Eykyn Maclean, LLC.

Work by Van Gogh was shown in Vienna in 1903 and 1906, inspiring local artists with his innovative technique. Egon Schiele identified with Van Gogh's tragic personality and his wilted sunflowers are painted like melancholy versions of Van Gogh's sunflowers.

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Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), Sunflowers, 1889. Oil on canvas, 95 x 73 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Stichting).

"I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers, against a yellow background, like a still life of quinces and lemons that I did some time ago. Only as it is much bigger, it gives a rather singular effect, and I think that this one is painted with more simplicity than the quinces and lemons ... nowadays I am trying to find a special brushwork without stippling or anything else, nothing but the varied stroke." (Quote source: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, from Arles, c.27 August 1888.)

Gauguin was telling me the other day that he had seen a picture by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine, but - he likes mine better. I don't agree - only don't think that I am weakening. ... If, by the time I am forty, I have done a picture of figures like the flowers Gauguin was speaking of, I shall have a position in art equal to that of anyone, no matter who. So, perseverance. (Quote source: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, from Arles, c. 23 November 1888.)

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Detail from Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers

Detail from Van Gogh sunflower painting
From the Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition Detail of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), Sunflowers, 1889. Oil on canvas, 95 x 73 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Stichting).

"One of the decorations of sunflowers on royal blue ground has 'a halo', that is to say each object is surrounded by a glow of the complementary color of the background against which it stands out." (Quote source: Letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother, Theo van Gogh, from Arles, c.27 August 1888)