Vincent Van Gogh: Woman with a spade as seen from behind. (1885)
Vincent Van Gogh is a master artist whose works have fascinated the society for decades. The manner in which he portrays his subjects and the deliberation of each stroke gives a life like result that is a pleasure to see. Vincent Van Gogh went through life searching for the elusive perfection that he could capture on canvas.
Though many would say that his works are itself a perfect presentation, Van Gogh proved to be his own biggest critic. He stated in one his Letter 257 c. January 3, 1883, "By working hard, old man, I hope to make something good one day. I haven't yet, but I am pursuing it and fighting for it..." thus were immortalizing his own life. We could have aptly used these words to write his eulogy for the search for something better is what he portrays on canvas.
Initially, Van Gogh was not a very good artist, but he worked hard at drawing and painting the dark, harsh life of peasants in the Dutch countryside.
His paintings give the audience intense pleasures and in each stroke we see a capacity of emotion that blends his life works to his art making it a masterpiece. If we take a brief background study of Van Gogh we realize that his transition from Art collector to artist was a development of his life. In 1879 he was going around to the coal miners and preaching as a minister. Their plight touched his heart and his mind. The narrowness of the work conditions and the manner in which they lived was pitiful and he could not reconcile his emotion to it. As a spiritual leader he tried to improve their plight but as a man he found his helplessness frustrating. The little he managed to do made no effect and he soon became obsessed with their burden. His intense desire to make things right was then expressed in his aesthetics. It is from this historical time that emerged his subject presentation and in his life we see a reflection of the history.
His painting during the era was then ramshackle, human, sad and autumnal; and the composition set in relief by the presence beyond the subject-nature with its warmth and energy the only facet that warmed the pictures.
The time was of turmoil in his personal and professional life as things fell apart. His initial compositions were of peasants and miners, who were closest to his heart. Studying composition and structure he continued to master his craft and refined his style. The depiction of the peasants was due to the revolutionary era. At a time when Europe was just over the Revolutions and the times were still traumatic as nationalism had a stronghold yet, which still did not bring stability. There were small revolutions all over the nations, which were bringing misery to the people and the society. Economic conditions were going down and the Dutch countryside was no exception.
He was deeply effected by religion and the evangelistic faith and this caused him to show the faith and compassion in his heart in an attempt to console, through art. Vincent's ten-year career was spent in a fulfilling manner four of which he spent on gaining technical proficiency, confining himself mostly to drawings and watercolors. Working intensely with chalk, charcoal, and ink, Van Gogh drew hundreds of detailed studies. Already he showed the command of composition and line and the management of space that would become important in his oil paintings.
I want to get to the point," he wrote, "where people say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly."
The answer came in pictures of peasants that were not, as Vincent put it, "perfumed" but that possessed a sense of kinship, anger, and undisguised reality. In 'Woman with a Spade seen from Behind' (1885), a composition and the masterpiece of his early period, the earthbound colors capture the bleak existence of the peasants he had come to know during his years as an evangelist -- people who with gnarled hands worked the fields.
The setting of the painting is at a time when the society was changing into industrial and the workers were being exploited. The miners had the worst of the lot as they toiled at low wages in environments that were hellish in shape. The fate of the peasants was especially hard. The women toiled in the fields all day receiving little in the form of wages. The feudal owners of the land exploited their work giving them little or no salary and they were considered the slaves of the feudal. Industrialization was taking place and mass urbanization was the result-those few left in the fields had a hard time surviving as their lands suddenly became useless.
Van Gogh believed that "color expresses something in itself" conveyed this feeling through emphatic contours and heightened dashes of color the immediacy of his feelings for his subjects. Nature was his touchstone and the blueness of the sky and the pale colors combined to create a celestial setting. The tranquil setting is left undisturbed and allows the audience to focus on the natural toil of the woman.
The lightness of the palette represents the influence of Ruben and the murky palette and rustic theme was what made his early style.
She is set in a field where there is no movement and her presence is the only life -- as if there is no reality for her outside the scope of her fieldwork. The landscape featuring a women working with a spade beneath a sky, is remarkable for its economy of means in the service of, what else with Van Gogh, intense feeling.
The artist has portrayed how the woman toils in the fields and for her this hard work is natural. The viewer might feel that the subject is merely an objectified subject but in reality Van Gogh was showing the plight of the peasants. By showing only the behind of the woman he impersonalized the image and allows the viewer to believe that the woman is not an individual but rather just one in a large crowd. She is presented as a common rather than an exception. Her face in darkness symbolized the fact that her plight was all too full of despair. She was committed to her work, as she had no other choice. The only relief she in her life had seen was the freedom in nature.
The hardworking peasant woman set in a rustic scene symbolized his most cherished ideals. He wanted to show the world the plight of these people largely ignored and as his experience showed that he could not alter their life style, he made them immortal. His experience of their life was portrayed on canvas and through his brush strokes he condemned society and callous indifference to their life.
The manner in which the depiction of the woman is made catches the attention of any audience as the mystery of the faceless woman challenges their minds. The peasant woman stands in stark contrast in her gray dress when compared to the grassy light fields and the open blue sky. Where in life she is ignored, here on canvas, Van Gogh defies our morals and claims attention regardless of societal norms.
The Shop girl' by Jacques-Joseph Tissot' (1883-85) is a contrast to this painting of Van Goghs. Tissot prefers modern women presented in stylistic settings.
Though the Title given is the Shop girl we see obviously affluent ladies and gentleman through the shop window and realize that Tissot knew the good life. His history though not relevant could not have know the level of pain and emotion that Van Gogh showed, for Tissot's canvas is more a photographic memorial than a real life painting of sorts.
Unlike Van Gogh in his early periods, Tissot preferred bright colors and a detailed style. His modern subjects depicted Parisian lifestyles and were targeted more at the higher classes than any one else. Yet, he did display a flair for the ordinary scenes in the city.
There is an art of the future, and it is going to be so lovely and so young that even if we give up our youth for it, we must gain in serenity by it," Vincent wrote to his brother Theo.
That prophetic vision of the future drove him to serve an apprenticeship as a painter of peasant life in Holland. From there Van Gogh moved to Paris, the crucible of European art, in which he forged his mature style. Then he went to Arles, where his genius came to a full and glorious flowering and where his scenes of rustic peasants found appeal. To the asylum at St.-Remy-de- Provence to recover from the physical and mental strain of painting "like a locomotive"; and finally to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he committed suicide at the age of 37. "We take death to reach a star,"…