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 Vincent van Gogh

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Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh, Olive TreesClick for larger image
Vincent van Gogh (van-GO)
Olive Trees, 1889
oil on linen
29 x 36 1/2 in.


Student Link
Luci, Lindbergh Elementary
About the Art

When Vincent van Gogh painted landscapes, he used more than paint and a brush. He also used his heart and his emotions. Other painters in earlier times wanted to paint landscapes exactly as they appeared. To van Gogh, however, the environment was not just what he saw, but what he felt as he stood in it and observed it. He said, "To paint nature, one must live in it a long time." This painting, with its bold colors and uninhibited brushstrokes, goes beyond a depiction of olive trees. It shows the trees as van Gogh saw them, with all the frenzied emotion they inspired in him.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, artists no longer felt the need to create works that showed nature exactly as it appeared. Photography now provided an accurate record of the world. Paint became available in small portable tubes in a wider variety of colors. Artists were now able to bring their canvases outside and were free to experiment with light and color, and to express their feelings through painting.

The French Impressionists were interested in painting light and how it reflected off objects and surfaces. They painted "impressions" of the world with short, expressive brushstrokes and dabs of brilliant colors. Van Gogh met many of the Impressionist painters at his brother's gallery in Paris. Van Gogh learned much about painting from the Impressionists, but he went on to develop his own style.

Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees (detail)
Olive Trees, detail of
trees and branches

Van Gogh often painted outdoors, directly from nature, rather than in a studio from his memory or imagination. However, van Gogh did not paint exactly what he saw. Instead, he used bright, bold colors and exaggerated lines. He distorted the shape of objects in order to communicate the intensity of his thoughts and emotions. He did not sketch his scenes first, but painted directly on the canvas, applying his paint with thick, strong strokes.

Real olive trees
This is a photograph of real olive trees.
In what ways has van Gogh exaggerated
the appearance of real olive trees in his painting?

Olive Trees is an exaggeration of reality. The branches of the trees curve and twist, the ground rolls like waves, and the sun blazes in a brilliant bright yellow. The short, powerful brushstrokes seem almost to have a life of their own, and are exploding with energy. The colors van Gogh used were often symbolic. To him, yellow symbolized love and light, red and green conveyed passion and conflict, blue was infinity, and gray was associated with surrender.


Vocabulary Terms

brushstrokes--The movement of the paintbrush as it appears on the painting surface.

Impressionism--A movement in painting in which the emphasis on light and color, loose brush strokes, ordinary subject matter; creates the "impression" of a moment in time. Dabs and strokes of color are used to depict the natural appearances of objects and reflected light.

symbolic--The practice of using something, usually an object or sign, to represent something else, usually intangible, such as an idea or concept.

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