Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gogh, Vincent van

La Mousme
oil on canvas
73.3 × 60.3 cm (28.9 × 23.7 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA

Inspired by Pierre Loti's novel Madame Chrysantheme and Japanese artwork, Gogh painted La Mousme, a well-dressed Japanese girl. He wrote in a letter to his brother: "It took me a whole week... but I had to reserve my mental energy to do the mousme well. A mousme is a Japanese girl - Provencal in this case - twelve to fourteen years old." At the time that Gogh painted this portrait he was 35 years old. Living in Arles in southern France, he was at the height of his career, producing some of his best work. Retreating from Paris, he hoped that his time in Arles would evoke in his work the simple, yet dramatic expression of Japanese art. This is likely one of Gogh's happier periods of life. He is confident, clear-minded and seemingly content.

Gogh's use of color is intended to be symbolic. La Mousme's outfit is a blend of modern and traditional. Her outfit is certainly modern. The bright colors of skirt and jacket are of the southern region of Arles. Regarding Gogh's painting of her features, his greatest attention is focused on the girls face, giving her the coloring of a girl from Arles, but with a Japanese influence. The young lady's posture mimics that of the oleander. The flowering oleander, like the girl, is in the blossoming stage of life. Gogh said of portrait studies, such as La Mousme, "the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else."

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 -1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty, and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. He spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers, traveling between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught for a time in England. One of his early aspirations was to become a pastor and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community.

In 1885, he painted his first major work The Potato Eaters. His palette at the time consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888. After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 in 1890 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found). His work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still.

Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties. He completed many of his best-known works during his last two years. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. His work included self portraits, landscapes, still lifes of flowers, portraits and paintings of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. According to an art critic, his late works show an artist at the height of his ability, completely in control and "longing for concision and grace". "I dream of painting and then I paint my dream." (Gogh)