Ninety

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Vicarage at Nuenen

c1884 by Vincent Van Gogh
The Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada

It is always interesting to look at sketches by artists that we are used to seeing work in paint, not to mention when the technique completely differs from their usual distinctive style. Vicarage at Neunen is relatively early in van Gogh’s career but not dramatically so, his Sunflowers and Starry Night painted in1889. Van Gogh actually left a remarkable amount of sketches behind, their popularity overshadowed by the painterly style he is so famous for. It is true these sketches are not so originally innovative in their execution, but their articulation is spoken through van Gogh’s tongue, betraying intriguing little signs of his hand. The house in this picture swells with personality; its roof sliding down gently on the right while the left stands up to attention, the edges of the porch guttering curling up like the lips of a smile. The windows are characteristic of van Gogh, pre-meditating the one in Bedroom in Arles (1888), edges slightly curved, the effect is playful. All this is contrasted to the grass and trees of the foreground, which are delicately drawn realistically – a far cry from the bold waving brush strokes that make up the grass of van Gogh’s painted fields. The delicacy of drawing is what is particularly striking; it contrasts completely to van Gogh’s characteristic painterly technique, where depiction depends on thickly painted lines, whether swirling as stars in the sky or as leaves on a tree. It is incredibly intimate to see van Gogh’s work in a different, perhaps quieter, medium.

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