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Lessons from Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Irises, 1890. Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958 (58.187)

Vincent van Gogh is known to have struggled with his mental health. He spent time at an asylum in Saint-Rémy in the south of France, and during his time there, he worked to understand how certain colors could be expressed in relation to each other by painting flowers. Just before he left the asylum, he painted a series of irises and roses—two paintings of each in different formats and colors—which were featured in the recently closed exhibition Van Gogh: Irises and Roses.

Unfortunately, due to how the paintings have aged, the original pigments have faded; the violets of the irises have faded to blue, and the pinks of the roses have faded to white. It's sad to see this lack of contrast because it takes away from the original beauty of the works. They were probably even more striking, but now they have an air of mystery.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Roses, 1890. Oil on canvas; 36 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (93 x 74 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1993, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1993.400.5)

My favorite part of Van Gogh's Roses, shown above, is actually the fallen petals on the surface of the table. He created it with a simple flick of his paintbrush, but there's no question as to what they are. I often struggle with making every detail in an artwork as realistic as possible, so it's fascinating to see an artist so celebrated be simplistic in his style.

It was interesting for me to find out that such a talented artist continually experimented with new and different techniques. I find it humbling to think of him as a fellow art student who was striving to be a better artist. It shows that while it's important to start with the basics, it's also important to be constantly learning.

Though this great exhibition has closed, both Irises and Roses are part of the Met's permanent collection, so they are frequently on display. Come see them for yourself, and find more works that inspire you to keep learning.

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