In August 1882 Theo gave Vincent money to buy materials for working en plein air. Vincent wrote that he could now "go on painting with new vigour". From early 1883 he worked on multi-figure compositions. He had some of them photographed, but when his brother remarked that they lacked liveliness and freshness, he destroyed them and turned to oil painting. Van Gogh turned to well-known Hague School artists like Weissenbruch and Blommers, and received technical advice from them, as well as from painters like De Bock and Van der Weele, both of the Hague School's second generation. When he moved to Nuenen after the period in Drenthe he began several large paintings but destroyed most of them. The Potato Eaters and its companion pieces are the only ones to have survived. Following a visit to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh wrote of his admiration for the quick, economical brushwork of the Dutch Masters, especially Rembrandt and Frans Hals.[note 12] He was aware that many of his faults were due to lack of experience and technical expertise, so in November 1885 he travelled to Antwerp and later Paris to learn and develop his skills.
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)
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."
"People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother. The works are now displayed in museums around the world, including in Washington, D.C., Paris, New York and Amsterdam.
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.