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What Even Sotheby’s Doesn’t Tell You About Van Gogh

What Even Sotheby’s Doesn’t Tell You About Van Gogh

His paintings are three dimensional! Vividly so. His latter works especially reach out to you as he literally caked on paint onto the canvas.

The flat looking photographs you’ve seen your entire life will not prepare you for what you see in person.

Van Gogh often used his fingers to put on paint. Paint is piled on, bas relief, with a texture only hinted at in photographs.

The swirling  in photographs of paintings like Wheatfields with Crows only hint at the three dimensional spirals of paint you will see in person.

Scale is misrepresented in some cases as well.

Potato Eaters is a dreary and gloomy piece but its dreariness is brought home hard in person because of its size, almost four feet across and nearly three feet in height. It’s big!

The Van Gogh Museum tries hard to get his paintings better represented. See how this link works for you, as you can see the paint in this Sunflowers rising above the surface. Zoom in.

The reason this huge factor in appreciating Van Gogh’s paintings is not always discussed may be that many art critics and art lovers have never seen his works in person. Understandable but misleading.

Seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in person is a completely new Van Gogh experience.

I was fortunate as a young man to see a large number of Van Gogh’s paintings before they left for Amsterdam, recalled for the new museum they were building there.

I will never forget going to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco to see this historic exhibit. My Dad took me because he loved art and he knew I did, too.

Thanks, Dad. You are constantly missed and I look forward to seeing you and Mom again. More than I look forward to seeing anything else in this world.


The following is from Sotheby’s:

On 25 March, Sotheby’s and Parisian auction house Mirabaud-Mercier will offer Vincent van Gogh’s exceptional 1887 painting, Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des deux frères, le moulin à poivre). Kept for nearly a century in the same private collection, hidden from public view, the reappearance of this painting on the market is a rare event.

THE TWO YEARS that Vincent van Gogh spent in Paris, beginning in 1886, marked one of the most transformative periods in his career. Arriving from Antwerp, he soon encountered the work of the Impressionists and the Parisian avant-garde. “What people demand in art nowadays is something very much alive, with strong colour and great intensity,” he wrote to his sister in the summer of 1887.

Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo in Montmartre, a bohemian quarter being colonised by artists’ studios and entertainment venues. The peculiar urban yet rural atmosphere of the Montmartre “maquis” – a side of the district filled with vegetable gardens, abandoned quarries and grassy wasteland – fascinated the artist and he was especially drawn to the quaint windmills, some now repurposed into cabarets and other places of leisure popular with artists.

In Scène de rue à Montmartre, van Gogh depicts the famous Pepper Mill, also known as the “Moulin Debray”, located within the enclosure of the Moulin de la Galette. He uses this subject, which he includes in two more works from this time, not only to capture a vibrant and original view of the areas but also to further the plastic revolution spurred on by his artistic encounters. Emboldened by the new artistic styles of artists such as Paul Signac and Claude Monet, van Gogh was transforming his own painting through a mastery of colour, light and composition. It was in Montmartre, during the spring of 1887, that he finally lay the foundations of his inimitable style.

Anatomy of an Artwork

Vincent van Gogh, Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des deux frères et le Moulin à Poivre), 1887, €5,000,000–8,000,000

Sotheby’s and Mirabaud Mercier
Impressionist & Modern Art, Paris, 25 March




1. Montmartre

This painting captures the distinct atmosphere of Montmartre at the end of the 19th century when the mills, no longer in operation, had become tourist attractions and places of leisure where Parisians came to mingle, drink, dance and relax.


2. New directions

Van Gogh’s artistic evolution is exemplified by the milky blue of the sky rubbing shoulders with the greens and mauves of the fence. His technique also develops, the graphic character of the fence contrasting with the free and removed touch of the rest of the composition.


3. Colour

Surrounded by artists, dancers, musicians, actors and writers in Montmartre, van Gogh abandoned the dark palette that dominated many of his early paintings in Holland and replaced it with a newfound love of colour.


4. Windmill

The mill is depicted as seen from the “Impasse des deux frères” with the entrance of the Moulin de la Galette enclosure topped with decorative lanterns, and a carousel visible behind the wooden palisades.


5. Influence

Van Gogh met artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac and Paul Gauguin who inspired him to incorporate Impressionism into his artwork resulting in lighter, more colourful paintings and new brushstroke techniques.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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