When we first heard of Van Gogh, we’d be on the same page if we think that he’s a talented artist, but one who mutilated his own ear. But what’s harder to believe is that the post-impressionist painter produced almost 900 paintings during his last nine years, while struggling and combating his mental illness.
Though there's a lot more on the list, we’ve rounded up 10 of Van Gogh’s most remarkable paintings, in chronological order.
1885: The Potato Eaters
The Potato Eaters is considered as one of Van Gogh’s earliest major paintings. It shows a group of peasants in a realistic, vivid depiction. The highlights of the art style were the coarse lines, bony hands, and dark, earthy colours, accurately representing the harsh life of the countryside. The Dutch artist possessed a keen interest in the working class, though he came from an affluent family.
1887: The Courtesan (after Eisen)
You may not have guessed that it was Van Gogh who painted The Courtesan (after Eisen). He did explore many artistic styles, including Ukiyo-e—the Japanese woodblock prints and painting genre. In Paris, Van Gogh collected works by Japanese ukiyo-e masters, such as Hiroshige and Hokusai.
As his appreciation grew, he reproduced a woodblock print of Keisai Eisen that later graced the Paris Illustré magazine cover. In his recreation, he inserted his own character, using paint instead of woodblock printing. He also relied on visible brush strokes to reveal the dimensions of the courtesan’s figure and the environment, and presented dynamic tensions on the surface that cannot be found in the original work.
One of the world's most beloved still life paintings, the Sunflowers series is among Van Gogh's greatest works. The above painting, Vase with Twelve Sunflowers exhibits the vibrant, bright yellow colours and the natural beauty of the flowers. It shows that there's a lot that can be done with different shades of one colour. And through its beauty in simplicity, this Van Gogh piece attracts many museum visitors in Munich. Undoubtedly, the oil in canvas work symbolises the happiness and speaks of the lovely relationship between people and the natural world.
1888: Café Terrace At Night
Arles, France definitely had a special place in Van Gogh's paintings as he lived there for several years before his death. The painting Café Terrace At Night paints a picture of a well lit cafe in the sleepless city. In this painting, Van Gogh emphasised the warmth and inviting light through strokes of yellow, set against the dark blue of the night sky. The painting is thought to be Van Gogh’s spiritual reflection; the yellow colour is associated with a religious light, while the window frame mimics the shape of a cross. Then there's the shadowed figure that's thought to signify Judas the Betrayer, which leads to the assumption that this was a hidden homage to Leonardo da Vinci and his painting The Last Supper.
1888: Bedroom in Arles
We really mean it when we say that Arles won Van Gogh’s heart. Even his own bedroom became the painting subject, for three times, with three distinct colouring patterns. Still, a vibrant palette in this Van Gogh painting indicates his favourite colour use during his life in Paris. Yellow like fresh butter, to be specific, covers the wooden bed and chairs. Being a personal work that he often shared to his family through a series of letters, Van Gogh expected that the oil in canvas painting would "rest the brain, or rather the imagination."
1888: The Red Vineyards at Arles
Though Van Gogh painted nearly a thousand works, only this painting was successfully sold when he was still alive. What makes this masterpiece so worthy? As the name implies, The Red Vineyards at Arles renders a red and yellow tone vineyard in southern France in early November. Completed during autumn, this vibrant Van Gogh painting also features a setting sun and its reflection on the river, which beautifies the work even more. Van Gogh also still opted for energetic brush strokes and thick layers in the painting.
1889: Starry Night
Often regarded as the pinnacle achievement of Van Gogh, Starry Night is the painting whose recreations you’ve probably seen numerous times before. What's not so typical is that this was the view from the east-facing window of Van Gogh's asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The intensity of his emotion poured into each brushstroke, resulting one of most important works in the long history of art, from the 19th century. The best part of this masterpiece is the curves and lines of the starry sky along with the nondescript rural areas, which have become one of the most recognizable paintings ever made.
Though institutionalised at an asylum, Van Gogh was still committed to his love of his life: painting outdoors. Another well known work of Van Gogh's is Irises, which he painted in the asylum’s garden that's filled with a myriad of plants and floras, including irises. Van Gogh applied bright blue and purple for irises to contrast other hues in this painting, giving that 'pop' to the flowers and bringing them to life. In addition tot he colour contrast, he also took advantage of a contrast in texture, like the rough texture of the earth in the foreground and the texture of the fine stems and iris leaves.
During his lifetime, Van Gogh managed to make no fewer than 35 self-portrait paintings. Van Gogh revealed various personalities from his self-portrait works: serious, restrained, neglected, depressed. While at the asylum, his self-portraits genuinely portrayed his physical and mental burnout. In fact, there are two self-portraits that were made after he had cut off his left ear, which was the beginning of a series of mental disorders that he later wrestled with.
1890: Paul-Ferdinand Gachet
To credit his homeopathic physician Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, Van Gogh made an appreciation painting of Dr. Gachet, who treated him during his final months. In this Van Gogh painting, the doctor sitting by a red table, leaning his head on his right arm near a pair of yellow books and foxgloves standing in a glass. The intimacy and personal connection they had is illustrated here. The forlorn glance does reflect Dr. Gachet’s feelings, but also Van Gogh's mental state. As a result, you might also sense the anguish and melancholy the painter was expressing a few months before he took his own life in 1890.