Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on the 30th March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands. He was a post-impressionist painter whose work has greatly influenced 20th & 21st century art. He is well known for struggling with mental illness and never saw the great success that was to come during his lifetime. He died at the tragically young age of thirty seven on the 29th July 1890 two days after shooting himself in the chest. He was buried at the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris.
For my research into van Gogh’s mark making I chose to start with the ‘Wheat field with Cypresses’ – Saint-Remy, black chalk and pen drawing from June 1889. I then looked at other paintings of the same year. All were painted in the period that he was in the mental hospital near Saint-Remy-de-Provence and were painted just one year before his death The area around the asylum was surrounded by cornfields and olive groves which feature again and again in his art work during this time.
In this example of van Gogh’s preparatory sketches – Wheat Field with Cypresses, we can clearly see the types of marks he used to denote texture, shade and movement. The undulating background clearly contrasts with the vertical marks used for the cypress and the swirling sky. Whilst dots and dashes clearly describe the ripe wheat in the field.
Artist and writer Katherine Tyrrell writes in her blog, Making A Mark “His drawings are frequently not mere copies but rather seek to continue to explore the subject and the scope for mark-making”
In the painting of the same name, painted a little later in late June 1889 we see the marks reproduced this time in oil, creating a scene full of movement. As Ingo E Walther writes in Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890: Vision and Reality (Aug. 1990) “A feeling of calm indeed still pervades the picture, yet a stormy turbulence (of the brush strokes too) is clearly present.” Each mark not only builds the image but gives us a feeling or sense of atmosphere.
In the oil on canvas ‘Olive Orchard’ Saint-Remy, mid June 1889 we see a different approach to mark making. Here we can clearly see one type of wavy mark runs throughout the painting, unifying the scene, yet still demonstrating movement.
Probably one of the best known and most popular works, ‘The Starry Night’ (certainly my favourite) again painted in Saint Remy, June 1889 combines large numbers of marks to dramatic effect. I love the dramatic swirling sky against the dark cypress reaching up to the sky in the foreground. As Eric Gelber writes in his critique of Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings Held at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005: “Van Gogh teaches us that a drawn line is not just a drawn line. He instilled his line with veracity and an energy that continues to elude classification. His graphic resources, stippling, cross hatching, a barrage of multi-directional slashes and whorls, were always contained in smartly delineated compositions”.