Van Gogh's studio practice: Canvases re-used

10 June 2011 - 16 September 2012

Vincent van Gogh regularly made a painting on a canvas he had used before. He began doing this in May of 1885, when he was still living in Nuenen, and continued this practice in his Paris years (1886-1888). At first he painted directly over the first composition, but gradually went to work differently depending on his ideas for a given painting. Sometimes he used the relief or the colours of the first image in the new painting, but if he wanted to make a thinly painted work requiring a smooth and even surface, he would thoroughly scrape off the first depiction. In some instances, he is also known to have covered the first scene with an opaque layer: a light one for a bright and transparently painted view of Paris, and a dark one for a subdued forest scene.

Various working methods
This presentation examines these various working methods on the basis of paintings such as Nude girl, seated, Trees, View from Theo’s apartment and Basket of pansies. When re-using certain canvases, Van Gogh applied a particular kind of covering layer that caused the condition of the painted scene on it to deteriorate over the years. Attention is also given to this aspect.
Vincent van Gogh, Basket of pansies, 1886, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Research project
The investigation into Van Gogh’s re-use of canvases is part of a large project entitled Van Gogh’s studio practice. A multidisciplinary team (comprising staff of the Van Gogh Museum, the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) and Shell) is examining every imaginable facet of Van Gogh’s artistic process and comparing it with that of his contemporaries. The objective is to gain greater insight into Van Gogh’s working method and to place it in the context of his time.

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