Vincent Van Gogh – View Of Arles

Van Gogh’s early works are heavy, muddy imitations of Millet and Courbet. Later, he learns from the impressionists the secret of broken color, and with it paints landscapes full of natural, sparkling sunlight. Later still, his colors grow even more intensely brilliant and contrasting than those of the impressionists. He leaves out gradual transitions and quiet, neutral areas, laying on pure cobalt blue, chrome yellow, emerald and vermilion side by side in Hals-like strokes which are so coarse the eye cannot blend them (as it can in a purely impressionist painting) into a mild iridescence. They glare, blaze and clash with barbaric exuberance. Such discords are not to be dismissed as bad art: children and primitive peoples, and moderns that have grown used to them, find them pleasantly vigorous and stimulating. The bizarre distortions of shape in Van Gogh’s later works are in the same excited spirit. As in an El Greco, everything is made to writhe and zig-zag in nervous agitation. But Greco’s motion, like that of Tintoretto and Rubens, was fundamental and powerful; Van Gogh’s is sometimes little more than a fantastic surface pattern, or a mere uncontrolled squirming of paint across the canvas.

The landscape shown is fairly late, but with surviving impressionist traits. The writhing, dashing brush-strokes, which were to gain in frenzy till they swept up rocks and houses in one reeling cataract, are here still restrained by some regard for natural outlines. They agitate, but still follow, the trunks and branches of the trees; they leave a fairly natural perspective over fields and blooming orchards to a static group of houses. But the colors are keyed up beyond nature, and separated into large contrasting streaks which refuse to blend into spring sunshine.