There are as many artists as there are fish in the sea, but the truth is that only a few manage to reach the status of art masters. Alongside Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh is amongst the selected group of artists that everybody recognizes.
The tragic story of the prolific artist who died before becoming one of the most famous personalities in the world has captivated us for over a century, and his artworks have become cultural icons. However, there is much more to Van Gogh than a tale of misfortunes and poverty and definitely much more than just a few sunflowers, self-portraits, and a bright night sky filled with stars.
Vincent Van Gogh created over two thousand artworks, of which almost half were oil paintings. His artistic path and backgrounds are as diverse as the number of artworks he created, which by the way, most of them were made during the last decade of his life. As a true artist, Van Gogh had a curious mind which led him to delve into different styles and techniques, so yes, many paintings are more interesting than the famous Starry Night. Here are some of them:
The Potato Eaters (1885)
Let’s go back a few years to the early paintings of this art master. The Potato Eaters has become one of Van Gogh’s most popular paintings in recent years, mainly because of how much it differs from his famous style. When he painted this piece, Van Gogh wasn’t close to becoming the great artist we know, and this was a particular piece he created to prove his worth. He chose to depict the crude reality of country life, a subject not many of his contemporaries portrayed. He decided to give his characters very rough faces and extremely bony features to show the hunger the people were going through.
Prisoners’ Round (1890)
During a difficult episode in his already tragic life, in 1888, Van Gogh had a mental breakdown that took him to an asylum in Saint-Rémy. Both his brother Theo, and the attending doctor, suggested that he should turn into his art as therapy to recover. However, since he didn’t have much to see and where to draw inspiration from, he turned to books and other artworks available at the asylum. One of these was the engravings of the famous artist Gustave Doré. This particular painting is Van Gogh’s version of Doré’s 1872 Prisoners’ Round.
Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette (1885-6)
Made as a satire on the tight academic practices that praised anatomical perfection in painting (and after criticism over his not precise human figures), Van Gogh decided to give them a perfect human skull with his own vision. This painting belongs to his Antwerp period, meaning it’s one of his early works. The painting is considered to belong to the theme of vanitas or memento mori, but more importantly, Van Gogh’s vision of himself at a time when his health was in very poor condition.
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1984)
Also one of his first works, which he later modified in 1885 (Van Gogh tended to go back to some of his work and make some modifications), this painting portrays his family home for some years from 1883 to 1885. His father became the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in Nuenen, and he and his family lived right at the vicarage for a time. This is the same time Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, and as you can see, they share the same style and earthy palette of colors. The painting was stolen in 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and was missing for over 13 years. Since 2016 it’s been displayed at its original location.
Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles) (1888)
In 1888, after a lot of insistence, the famous painter Paul Gauguin accepted the invitation of Van Gogh, a young and unknown artist, to stay with him at his recently acquired residence in Arles, France. During the visit, both artists shared some of their tips and worked together side by side. Excited by the visit and attention of his hero, Van Gogh decided to recreate the piece Gauguin had just made, the Arlésiennes (Mistral). Although you can see some of Van Gogh’s characteristic style, the paintings clearly show Gauguin’s use of color and even some techniques. It’s believed that the two ladies in the painting are Van Gogh’s mother and sister.
If you want to learn more about this strange relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin (and the alleged story of how Van Gogh lost his ear), check out this story!
Courtesan (after Eisen) (1889)
This is probably one of Van Gogh’s most interesting paintings on the list. Inspired by the traditional Japanese woodcut, Van Gogh delved into this style for a while, and created several pieces containing Japanese imagery and techniques. This one, in particular, takes inspiration from the Japanese artist, Kesai Eisen, thus the name. This is an oil painting, so to give the impression of being a traditional woodcut artwork by Van Gogh, used bold outlines and really bold colors. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this particular painting is the message through some small elements. You can see a crane and a frog that doesn’t seem to belong to the atmosphere of the painting. In French, these words were commonly used to refer to courtesans (grue and grenouille, respectively).
Portrait of Père Tanguy (1887)
Using the same Japanese inspiration, but a couple of years before, this painting belongs to what Van Gogh called his Japonaiserie period. Also, this is one of the three portraits he did of Julien Tanguy, an art dealer and art supply seller Van Gogh appreciated a lot. Tanguy was one of the first to really believe in Van Gogh’s art and one of the first who offered his paintings for sale. Now, the passion of Van Gogh for Japanese art isn’t a coincidence; there was a craze over Japanese art when the blockage of Japanese goods in Europe was lifted. That’s why many contemporary European artists explored the style in their work.
Portrait of Eugène Boch (1888)
Last but not least, a very singular portrait that was one of Van Gogh’s dearest works. Also known as The Painter with Stars, it depicts Eugène Boch, a wealthy artist and very close friend of Van Gogh, who was known for supporting poor talented artists. Van Gogh liked this painting so much (and was very grateful for his friend) that he hung it over his bed at his famous Yellow House in Arles. After Van Gogh’s death, Boch was given the painting, which he held all his life.
Now that you know other less-known paintings by Van Gogh, you can really see the talent and mastery of this artist who didn’t only create a unique painting style copied by millions, but also an artist who understood and mastered all sorts of techniques, styles, and themes.