The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh tend to generally overshadow his drawings. Van Gogh sketched over 1,100 drawings, most of which remain unknown though experts consider them to be his most ‘ingenious and striking creations’ While a great many of his drawings and paintings were produced during a two year period of his working in Provenance, Van Gogh kept sketching almost to the end of his life.
Towards the end of his life, Van Gogh spend a year as a voluntary patient at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy. Confined within the grounds of the asylum, Van Gogh drew a series of images that depicted the garden, the scenes outside his room, and even a few portraits of people he met at the asylum. When he was unable to paint, he used drawing tools, making use of unusual combinations with whatever he could lay his hands on at the time. Needless to say his drawings during the time have been considered his most inventive in terms of style and form. One of the sketches he drew at the time is known as ‘The Fountain in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital’ in May 1889.
The drawing was done in black chalk plus reed pen and ink and was essentially a rendition of what he saw sitting in the garden. The fountain is depicted to spout of water from a carved basket of fruit. For the jet of water, he scraped the ink from the paper with a sharp object. This was a novel technique, Van Gogh had nor used before and indeed would never again. Interestingly many of the art critics tend to think that this drawing was entirely done in black. However, the edges of the broad lines of ink are dark blue, which indicates to the possibility that the drawing might have been in color. As usual, not much is known about the drawing, which only adds a layer of mystery to it. Theo, Van Gogh’s brother and an art connoisseur himself mentions this drawing in one of his letters as a ‘superb pen drawing’.
The fountain motif is crucial in several ways. First, Van Gogh used this motif in several of his paintings of the asylum garden, though of course it is most clearly shown in the etching ‘Fountain in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital’. Van Gogh was one of the earliest painters in the post-impressionist style. Though not expressly described as such, his paintings and drawings had a distinct flavor of expressionism, though this is more obvious in his paintings. In fact, the way he used lines as gestures and his distortion of reality for emotional effect was echoed by several later artists and became the basis for Abstract Expressionism.
‘The Fountain in the Garden’ is a case in point for the idea of expressionism in several ways. First the content of the painting itself was curious. Landscape drawings are different from portrait drawings. In the latter, the expressive distortion does not change the realism of the portrait. However, in landscape drawings, like that of the trees and water gushing out of the fountain, the nature itself is seen as temperamental. Because of this many consider Van Gogh to be the inventor of expressionist landscape drawing. Also the impulsive way in which the materials were selected to suit the purpose of the drawing is a classic form of expressionism, and is said to express subjective emotions. ‘The Fountain in the Garden’ exemplifies this as well because here Van Gogh has used materials and techniques i.e. black chalk plus reed pen and ink, and the sharp instrument to scratch for depicting water, a technique he used for the first and last time. The drawing itself is not confined to use of a single style or technique. It varies as different objects in the garden are displayed. For instance, in ‘The Fountain in the Garden’, Van Gogh made use of hatching and cross-hatching to create visual structure and implied light.
The landscape drawing, such as this one, is also famous for Van Gogh’s modification of linear perspective. By the end of his life, Van Gogh was well versed in linear technique and was actively experimenting and modifying the existing principles to include personal expression in the drawings. This distinguished his drawings from mere landscape topography to symbols of personal expression. Generally linear perspective uses one- and two-point to create the illusion of space. Van Gogh uses a three-point perspective where he altered the central vanishing point to create the impression of ascending and descending images. This is also visible in ‘The Fountain in the Garden’ when he distinguishes the far end of the garden from his perspective.
The use of all the techniques in tandem created the ‘The Fountain in the Garden’ that many consider to be his brother, Theo’s favorite drawings.
- David. (2011, March 17). The Evolution of Linear Perspective. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://paintingclass.net/blog/the-evolution-of-linear-perspective/
- Green, G. L. (2014, October 20). A Balancing Act: Isamu Noguchi. Retrieved from Western Washington University Website: http://westerngallery.wwu.edu
- Hernandez, P. (2014). Chapter 9 continued: Drawing Materials. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from Houston Community College Web site: http://learning.hccs.edu/faculty/patricia.hernandez/arts-1301/chapter-9-part-two-drawing/at_download/file.
- Ives, C., & Stein, S. A. (2005, October). Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890): The Drawings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York. Retrieved from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gogh_d/hd_gogh_d.htm
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- The Art Story Foundation. (2012, February). Vincent Van Gogh. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://www.saylor.org/
- van Gogh, T. (1890, January 8). Letter to Vincent van Gogh. Written 8 January 1890 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/T24.htm
- Van Gogh, V. (1889). Fountain in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=38021