Theo was the manager of Goupil art dealers (later Boussod, Valadon & Cie) on the Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. He introduced his brother to the colourful work of prominent modern artists like Claude Monet. Vincent van Gogh also got to know a new generation of artists at Fernand Cormon’s studio, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard.
All those new impressions and new people had an influence on his own work and inspired him to experiment freely. The dark tones of The Potato Eaters quickly gave way to brighter colours, as in The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry.
Light, colour, outlines
Vincent’s work grew steadily brighter in Paris, under the influence of modern art. He used brighter colours and developed his own style of painting, with short brush strokes.
The themes he painted likewise changed, with rural labourers giving way to cafés and boulevards, the countryside along the Seine and floral still lifes. He also tried out more ‘commercial’ subjects, such as portraits. Vincent mostly acted as his own sitter, however, as models were relatively expensive.
Meanwhile, he discovered a new source of inspiration in Japanese woodcuts, which sold in large quantities in Paris. Vincent and Theo began to collect them. The influence of the bold outlines, cropping and colour contrasts in these prints showed through immediately in his own work.
After two years, Vincent began to tire of the frenetic city life in Paris.
'It seems to me almost impossible to be able to work in Paris, unless you have a refuge in which to recover and regain your peace of mind and self-composure. Without that, you’d be bound to get utterly numbed.'
He longed for the peace of the countryside, for sun, and for the light and colour of ‘Japanese’ landscapes, which he hoped to find in Provence, in the South of France. Following a train journey that lasted a day and a night, he arrived on 20 February 1888 in Arles, a small town on the River Rhône.