Known primarily as a Post-Impressionist painter, Van Gogh’s drawings are less known. He created over 900 paintings, but his drawings and sketches number over 1000. Many of Van Gogh’s drawings served as studies for later paintings or experiments in composition. Sometimes, he made drawings and sketches of his paintings to show his brother and companions his latest artwork. In this slide presentation, we analyze 16 drawings of Vincent Van Gogh, selected for the variety of subject matter and technique.
About Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch artist whose work attracted little attention during his lifetime. Suffering from mental illness, he died at the young age of 37. His reputation as an artist soared in the early 20th century as other artists began to incorporate his style into their work. He is considered one of the greatest artists of the Post-Impressionist era.
Van Gogh and His Passion for Drawing
“Drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit.”Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh had a passion for drawing, and considered drawing the foundation of his creativity. Drawing was getting back to basics, allowing him to intimately connect with his subject which he found calming. He loved to draw so much, that sometimes, he did nothing but draw.
Although a prolific painter, economics made drawing very attractive. Van Gogh had little money, and drawing was cheaper than painting. Paint and canvas, coming from Paris, was expensive. For drawing, he cut reeds for his pens and bought paper from local shops. When strong winds shook his easel, he opted to draw on paper firmly attached to a board.
Van Gogh’s Subjects
Van Gogh took inspiration for his drawings wherever he found himself. Whether on holiday, or living in a mental hospital, he drew what he observed and experienced. His subjects are quite varied, consisting of landscapes, still life, portraits, the human figure, and depictions of working people. Van Gogh’s mark making is bold, lively, and energetic.
Van Gogh’s Drawing Tools
Van Gogh’s drawings are brought to life through the medium of pencil, chalk, reed pen, and ink. Paper available during his time included wove and laid paper. Here’s a description of Van Gogh’s drawing tools:
Pencil - Carpenter pencil, a pencil that has a rectangular or elliptical cross-section. This kind of pencil is easier to hold than a regular pencil because it has a larger surface area. It also doesn't roll around. One holds the pencil slightly rotated to draw thick or thin lines. The pencil manufacturer Faber-Castell, known then as Faber, boasts that Van Gogh preferred their pencils. Chalk - Blue, red, and black chalk. Reed Pen - Made by cutting a plant reed at an angle and sharpening the tip. Paper - White, cream, blue, or grey paper. Laid, or wove paper. Laid paper has a ribbed surface. The ribbed lines in one direction are heavier and more widely spaced than those in the perpendicular direction. Wove paper has a smooth texture, without ribbing. Van Gogh often used colored or off-white paper. To learn how colored paper enhances the appearance of a drawing, see What Kind of Drawing Paper Should I Use? Ink - Iron gall ink, which is a mixture of iron sulfate, gall nut extract (produced from oak trees), and gum arabic. For centuries, it was a common ink for writing and drawing.
Van Gogh’s Drawing Technique
Sometimes Van Gogh employed only one drawing tool, other times he combined media. His rough sketches were rendered with chalk, while more finished drawings were created with a combination of media including watercolor. Compositions were well planned, showing an astute understanding of perspective, placement, line, and form.
Had Van Gogh lived longer, he would have seen his style and subject matter critically acclaimed by art lovers everywhere. See more of his drawings at Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.