Pick Up a Few Pointers from This Dutch Master

A willingness to experiment with perspective and style is often the determining factor between a competent artist and a master. A new exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Van Gogh Up Close," takes a compelling look at the choices Vincent van Gogh made with depth, line, and perspective that helped him create many of his seminal works, and who could resist picking up a few pointers from this master Dutch painter?

Undergrowth with Two Figures by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil painting, 19½  x 39¼.

Undergrowth with Two Figures by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil painting, 19½  x 39¼.

The exhibition examines Van Gogh's study of nature between 1866, when he left Antwerp for Paris, and his death in 1890. Through his daring use of bold colors and his abandonment of traditional oil painting techniques, Van Gogh sought an engagement between the viewer and his depictions of nature, be it a wide view of a wheat field at harvest or an intimate depiction of almond blossoms in full bloom. His experimentation brought many of his compositions "up close" into the foreground, allowing a much more personal view of his depictions of the world.

Almond Blossom by Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil painting, 28 15/16 x 36¼.

Almond Blossom by Vincent van Gogh,
1890, oil painting, 28 15/16 x 36¼.

Upon reaching Paris, Van Gogh initially moved in with his brother Theo and focused on still life paintings, investigating detailed aspects of scale, angle, and color. Later, the landscapes he creates in Saint-Rémy and Auvers in 1889 and 1890 showed more large-scale structures and complex compositions. The 45 paintings in "Van Gogh Up Close" run the gamut of his experimentations in these final years of his life, yet all retain the drama and dreamlike flair that he infused in all of his works.

The exhibition will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until May 6, but the exploration of master artists and their groundbreaking experimentations doesn't end there. American Artist magazine is a constant source of exhibition updates and "up close and personal" feature articles of how capable artists become masters.

The May issue includes composition advice from fantasy and commercial artist Gregory Manchess, an examination of Howard Pyle's powerful influence, and a study of how pulp artist Everett Raymond Kinstler developed his own style to become one of today's great portraitists. The issue is available now in print and eBook formats, so why wait to take the leap into the company of master artists?


James is the assistant editor of American Artist magazine.


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3 thoughts on “Pick Up a Few Pointers from This Dutch Master

  1. I am trying to paint like the Dutch Masters with an grisailles underpainting, but I have not been able to find the right paint/glazing combination or whatever the next layer needs to be. Could someoneplease help me with this and explain what combination I need to use fo the last layer in color. I would be very grateful.

    With kindest regards,