Monday Motivator: Van Gogh’s First Impression of the Impressionists Wasn’t Favourable

Monday Motivator Motivation QuoteVan Gogh first saw impressionist paintings in person in Paris at the eighth Impressionists group exhibition (15 May to 15 June 1886). He wasn’t initially impressed:

“…people have heard of the Impressionists, they have great expectations of them… and when they see them for the first time they’re bitterly, bitterly disappointed and find them careless, ugly, badly painted, badly drawn, bad in colour, everything that’s miserable. That was my first impression, too…”
— Vincent van Gogh, writing to his sister Willemien, c20 June 1888.

However, it did make him think about the colours he was using:

“That initial reaction did not prevent him from noticing, however, that his own paintings were very gloomy in colour. A more direct influence from the contemporary art of the impressionists and neo-impressionists would become visible in Van Gogh’s paintings only in 1887”.
— Marije Vellekoop,”Van Gogh at Work”, page 115

Influences may not be immediate, nor overt, nor dramatic. Denying influence would be like denying oxygen — we use it without being aware of it most of the time.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh
“Irises” by Vincent van Gogh (1889). 71x93cm. In the J.Paul Getty Museum. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

What we like, and why, changes. I like Turner’s paintings tremendously now, especially his later ones, whereas when I first wandered through the Turner wing in the Tate Modern I was quickly overloaded and befuddled. Perhaps it was the number of paintings? Now when I get the chance I always walk through the entire wing, stopping in front of a few for a closer contemplation.

Does my current enjoyment of painting in layers come from my looking at Turner or is it painting in layers that has led me to enjoying Turner, or a bit of both? Does it matter?

3 Replies to “Monday Motivator: Van Gogh’s First Impression of the Impressionists Wasn’t Favourable”

  1. At first, only seeing reproductions of his work, I was not impressed by his paintings. Then I saw an original at the Art Institute in Chicago. WOW what a difference. I became a fan.

    1. Seeing something in real life is so different from a photo! The one time I was disappointed was the Mona Liza in the Louvre which is much smaller than I realised.

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