The Influence of Vincent Van Gogh

by Matthew Bates

The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh were my first major influence as a young man growing up in Washington, D.C. when I first started painting at the age of sixteen. I was lucky to live there because I was able to see in person his paintings, at the National Gallery of Art, and at The Phillips Collection. My passion for his artwork was intense. I think it was his liberal use of color, such a fearless palette, and vibrant tones, that attracted me to his painting. On St. Patrick's Day in 1988, I went to New York City for the day to see a major show of Van Gogh's paintings. I took the train, by myself, I can't remember why I went by myself, but I did alright getting there, I was only 17. I remember walking from Penn Station to the MET up 5th avenue. When I got into the show, I was overwhelmed. I thought that I would have to leave, so I just sat down and let it all hit me, especially seeing "Starry Night". It was right there in front of me. The show was huge, there must have been 70 paintings there. Van Gogh had just become a super star by setting all kinds of records for the sales of his work. I will admit that I was caught up in the fervor surrounding the buzz, but I think that it was something more.

Later that year I traveled to Holland where I got to see the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and a strange little gallery in the middle of the Dutch forest which had about 50 different Van Gogh paintings. It was great to see for myself where the man came from. It is also considerable what he was able to break free from since the Dutch tradition of painting is very realistic, and except for some of Rembrandt's later work, not very painterly. What I mean by painterly is the liberal use of paint so that it creates a heavy amount of paint on the actual canvas. Of course Van Gogh was involved with some of the great visionaries of the art world in the late 19th century. His time in Paris I think was particularly influential. On that same trip that Summer we visited Paris as well, and my ability to understand his paintings increased.

When I was twenty I moved to Firenze, Italy where many other artistic influences started to take over focus from my former love for the Impressionist and Post Impressionist movements. I think that it is very difficult not to be blown away by the Renaissance, it is so all encompassing compared to the relative frivolous nature of the art scene that Van Gogh was part of. So, for a long time I read about, and studied the art of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raffaello, and other Italian masters. I think that it was a good thing to do, it gave me a strong base on which to stand as a painter of our time.

I think that as Facebook has shown us, we are very attracted to how we were in our youth. I feel that there is a subconscious influence that permeates into our daily life from when we were truly innocent, and what is more innocent than the art of Van Gogh? He painted without any regard to financial gain. His career was simply childish, wildly free. When I look at a Van Gogh I think of what it must be to be a small child, without any reference points. His subjects glow like they are seen through a glass, shimmering with a heavenly light. Now, after many years, I realize that my passion for Van Gogh's art that I had in my youth is very real today, just in another form. I was looking through a selection of Van Gogh's works the other day and I was very surprised to find many elements  in his paintings that I have subconsciously added to my own paintings. Here are some examples:

Almond Blossom - Van Gogh

VAN GOGH, Vincent
"Branches with Almond Blossom"

February 1890

Oil on canvas - 73.5 x 92 cm

Spring Blossoms

Matthew Bates "Spring Blossoms" (2008)

Oil on Canvas - 40cm x 40cm

Irises Van Gogh 

Vincent van Gogh - "Irises"
Dutch, Saint-Rémy, France, 1889
Oil on Canvas 28 x 36 5/8 in.


Iris Garden


Matthew Bates"Iris Garden"

Oil on Canvas - 89cm x 55cm - 2004


I have made one painting that has no subliminal input, but an actual "hommage" to Van Gogh, in my painting "Girls of Montmartre" I added a street vendor who sells copies of famous paintings, and one of them is Van Gogh's famous "Cafe Terrace at Night" which I copied into the background of my painting. Here is where you can find it:

Night Cafe

Van Gogh - "Cafe Terrace at Night"

1888 - Oil on Canvas - 81 × 65,5 cm





Matthew Bates - "Girls of Montmartre"

2008 - 120cm x 90cm - Oil on Canvas

Van Gogh

(Detail of "Girls of Montmartre" with hommage to Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night")


There are a few other things that are mere coincidences, we both have red hair and beards, and almost have the same birthday, off by a single day, although I think that I am bit bit less serious looking:

Van Gogh portrait

Vincent Van Gogh

Matthew Bates

Matthew Bates

©2011, Matthew Bates, Firenze Italy

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