Vincent Van Gogh Painting Style And Techniques

Arguably the most influential painter of the 1800s, Vincent Van Gogh set himself apart as a Post-Impressionist artist capable of capturing great beauty and depth of emotion in his many pieces. In looking at a cross section of his work, it is easy to spot a clear evolution from the very anatomically accurate paintings of his early years to the more whimsical creations of his final days. These slow but notable changes in Vincent Van Gogh painting style and techniques make him a very fascinating artist to study. Today, artists continue to make use of Van Gogh’s favored techniques, which include impasto, perspective frame usage and painting from memory.

Canvas Preparation

Before commencing with any given painting session, Vincent Van Gogh made a point of carefully preparing his canvas. The artist preferred the standard canvas of the day, which was tightly woven and made by machines. He purchased these canvases — along with a whole host of other materials — from Pere Tanguy’s famous art supply shop. The canvases have since been deemed of shockingly low quality as such, those who strive to create reproductions of Van Gogh’s work are advised to also use lower quality linen-stretched canvases. In addition to the purchase of his favorite canvases, Van Gogh’s artistic preparation process included the use of chalk, barium sulphate and lead white as canvas fillers. This Van Gogh painting technique, although not as well known as his use of bright colors and thick paint, made it possible for the artist to exemplify his unique painting style.

Paint Colors And Tubes

Vincent Van Gogh remains an influential figure to this day, in part, due to his impressive command of color. As in all aspects of his painting, his use of color evolved greatly over the course of his career, with earlier pictures including such dark tones as olive and raw sienna. Many of these early paintings featured miserable miners and peasants, and as such, the use of earthly tones was necessary in order to capture the seeming hopelessness of these subjects. This is especially evident in The Potato Eaters, which depicts a family of laborers gathering for a decidedly modest meal.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

As he grew more comfortable with his chosen profession, Van Gogh began to experiment more and more with bright colors. Instead of using various shades of brown and green to create realistic looking images, he decided to take a much more revolutionary approach, matching colors with emotions. Vincent Van Gogh experimented with a wide array of colors, but his favorites were chrome yellow, chrome orange, cadmium yellow, geranium, Prussian blue and emerald. Chrome yellow and cadmium yellow were later revealed to be toxic and as such, modern painters inspired by Van Gogh typically substitute these hues with alternative pigments. Although he grew to prefer bright shades, Van Gogh’s concessions to the dark coloring that had dominated his earlier work included the frequent use of black and Van Dyck brown.


Perhaps best known for his thick use of paint, Vincent Van Gogh was a famous adherent to the popular painting technique known as impasto, which involves the thick laying down of paint on a particular segment of the canvas. This technique makes brushstrokes more visible and, once the paint has dried, adds an extra element of texture. In Van Gogh’s work, the use of impasto had a huge effect on lighting, with the raised, almost three dimensional surfaces of his paintings appearing different depending on the source of light. Perhaps the most notable uses of impasto in Van Gogh’s work can be witnessed in such famous paintings as Starry Night and Wheat Field With Cypresses, both of which would arguably not be nearly as impactful without the texture and emotion attributed to this memorable technique.

Wheatfield With Cypresses by Van Gogh

Perspective Frame

Many of the world’s greatest artists have struggled with perspective, including, of course, Vincent Van Gogh. The painter was not afraid to admit to the challenges he faced with perspective. He made a good faith effort to improve his technique with the help of various guidebooks, but in the end, he came to rely on a handy perspective frame. Constructed with the help of a local blacksmith, this boxy frame allowed Van Gogh to view the scenes he was painting as if he happened to be looking through a window. The frame also hastened the painting process, allowing Van Gogh to accomplish more in a far shorter period of time. In a letter addressed to younger brother and art dealer Theo Van Gogh, the artist described his use of the perspective frame in detail, even including a sketch of him using the wondrous tool.

The Influence Of Paul Gauguin

In his later years, Van Gogh took a slight departure from his standard style and instead decided to utilize the famous approach of Paul Gauguin, best known for his love of painting with memory. The result was a painting style that, while very attractive, was not nearly as realistic as Van Gogh’s earlier work. Reception to this development was mixed at the time and remains so today, with proponents of Van Gogh’s later style insisting that his Gauguin-inspired works were more imaginative and thus, more meaningful.

The vast changes in Van Gogh’s technique largely took place while he was living with Gauguin, with the two artists opting for heavier brush strokes and the overall thicker application of paint. Both enjoyed painting landscapes, although they also expressed interest in using residents of Arles as subjects for somber portraits. Eventually, Gauguin decided to leave Van Gogh behind, pursuing the greater artistic opportunities in Paris. In spite of his departure, it was clear that he had made his mark on the great Post-Impressionist painter; the two continued to communicate via mail and Van Gogh continued to paint from memory.




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