Looking at Art

Monday: Let’s Look at Art…..Irises by Vincent Van Gogh

Monday: Let’s Look at Art

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch painter) Post-Impressionist 

Background: Van Gogh created Irises in Saint-Rémy, France in 1889, a year before his death. After episodes of self-mutilation and hospitalizations, Van Gogh chose to enter an asylum.

In the year before his death, he created almost 130 paintings including Irises and Starry Night. He sent both of these paintings to his brother Theo in Paris. Theo submitted these works to the Salon des Indépendents in September, 1889.

He started Irises within the first week and was completed prior to his first mental attack in the asylum. He was inspired by the gardens at the asylum.

There are no known drawings of this painting as he considered it a study.

This is one of the most expensive paintings ever sold. It sold for $54 million in 1987. It is displayed in the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Influenced: Van Gogh’s cropped composition and broad areas of vivid color that goes off the side of the canvas is probably influenced by Japanese woodblock printing. The use of black contours is also inspired by the Japanese wood-blocking.

Medium: Oil on canvas

Discussion of subject matter: 

Each iris in Van Gogh’s painting are unique; since he uses a fluid motion to create curves and twists to create unique shapes and movement to each individual flower. He used different angles to capture different parts of the irises. I like the darker (black or blue-ish) outlines around some of the leaves which create a clear sense of movement and curves.

Also note the rich red soil; found at the bottom of the painting and then your eye is brought upwards to the bright orange marigolds at the top of the painting. In many popular reproductions of Irises the orange and yellow flowers are cropped out. However, I love how the pop of yellow at the top brings out the yellow in the leaves and the center of the irises.

One of the symbolic interpretations focuses specifically on the lone white iris as Van Gogh’s depiction of he’s own isolation and loneliness in the asylum.

Since Van Gogh was a preacher when he was younger there is possibly a Biblical reference to the soul as a garden.

The vibrant blue and purple’s bring the petals to life and create depth to the flowers.

The Iris is an interesting flower to choose to paint since it is almost impossible to kill since the rougher the conditions the better it grows. Also if you plant all blue irises it is common that you will have one or two white ones grow as well.

Other Interpretations: 

The top left painting called The Iris is on display in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.

Contrast: Another take on Irises is famously completed by Claude Monet who loved to grow irises in his garden in Giverny.

Irises in Monet’s Garden at Giverny, 1900


Monet’s garden

Getty Museum

Van Gogh Gallery

Vincent Gallery

Google Arts & Culture

Totally history of Irises

Wiki Art

Fine Art Diner


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