The portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by Van Gogh's Dutch upbringing; the patchworks of fields and avenues appear flat and lacking perspective, but excel in their use of colour. His new-found appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. In March 1888 he painted landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame"; three of the works were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In April, he was visited by the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who was living nearby at Fontvieille. On 1 May 1888, for 15 francs per month, he signed a lease for the eastern wing of the Yellow House at 2 place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and had been uninhabited for months.
He moved to Antwerp that November, and rented a room above a paint dealer's shop in the rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat). He lived in poverty and ate poorly, preferring to spend the money Theo sent on painting materials and models. Bread, coffee and tobacco became his staple diet. In February 1886 he wrote to Theo that he could only remember eating six hot meals since the previous May. His teeth became loose and painful. In Antwerp he applied himself to the study of colour theory and spent time in museums—particularly studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens—and broadened his palette to include carmine, cobalt blue and emerald green. Van Gogh bought Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, later incorporating elements of their style into the background of some of his paintings. He was drinking heavily again, and was hospitalised between February and March 1886, when he was possibly also treated for syphilis.[note 6]
In 1892 Émile Bernard organised a small solo show of Van Gogh's paintings in Paris, and Julien Tanguy exhibited his Van Gogh paintings with several consigned from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In April 1894 the Durand-Rue Gallery in Paris agreed to take 10 paintings on consignment from Van Gogh's estate. In 1896, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited John Peter Russell on Belle Île off Brittany. Russell had been a close friend of Van Gogh; he introduced Matisse to the Dutchman's work, and gave him a Van Gogh drawing. Influenced by Van Gogh, Matisse abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright colours.
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Gogh, Vincent van: Bouquet of Flowers in a VaseBouquet of Flowers in a Vase, oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh, c. 1889–90; in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. 65.1 × 54 cm.Photograph by Trevor Little. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1993, bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1993.400.4)
Between February and April 1890 Van Gogh suffered a severe relapse. Depressed and unable to bring himself to write, he was still able to paint and draw a little during this time, and he later wrote to Theo that he had made a few small canvases "from memory ... reminisces of the North". Among these was Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Hulsker believes that this small group of paintings formed the nucleus of many drawings and study sheets depicting landscapes and figures that Van Gogh worked on during this time. He comments that this short period was the only time that Van Gogh's illness had a significant effect on his work. Van Gogh asked his mother and his brother to send him drawings and rough work he had done in the early 1880s so he could work on new paintings from his old sketches. Belonging to this period is Sorrowing Old Man ("At Eternity's Gate"), a colour study Hulsker describes as "another unmistakable remembrance of times long past". His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, according to the art critic Robert Hughes, "longing for concision and grace".
In these series, Van Gogh was not preoccupied by his usual interest in filling his paintings with subjectivity and emotion; rather the two series are intended to display his technical skill and working methods to Gauguin, who was about to visit. The 1888 paintings were created during a rare period of optimism for the artist. Vincent wrote to Theo in August 1888, "I'm painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when it's a question of painting large sunflowers ... If I carry out this plan there'll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will therefore be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it's a matter of doing the whole thing in one go."
Theo kept all of Vincent's letters to him; Vincent kept few of the letters he received. After both had died, Theo's widow Johanna arranged for the publication of some of their letters. A few appeared in 1906 and 1913; the majority were published in 1914. Vincent's letters are eloquent and expressive and have been described as having a "diary-like intimacy", and read in parts like autobiography. The translator Arnold Pomerans wrote that their publication adds a "fresh dimension to the understanding of Van Gogh's artistic achievement, an understanding granted us by virtually no other painter".
As an a cappella enthusiast, he has sung in a group called "Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix" since September 2000. The quartet has performed several times in Los Angeles as well as on Larry King Live, The First Annual TV Land Awards, and sang the national anthem at three Los Angeles Lakers games including a nationally televised NBA Finals performance on NBC. Van Dyke was made an honorary member of the Barbershop Harmony Society in 1999.
Van Gogh strove to be a painter of rural life and nature, and during his first summer in Arles he used his new palette to paint landscapes and traditional rural life. His belief that a power existed behind the natural led him to try to capture a sense of that power, or the essence of nature in his art, sometimes through the use of symbols. His renditions of the sower, at first copied from Jean-François Millet, reflect Van Gogh's religious beliefs: the sower as Christ sowing life beneath the hot sun. These were themes and motifs he returned to often to rework and develop. His paintings of flowers are filled with symbolism, but rather than use traditional Christian iconography he made up his own, where life is lived under the sun and work is an allegory of life. In Arles, having gained confidence after painting spring blossoms and learning to capture bright sunlight, he was ready to paint The Sower.
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