Where? Gallery 222 of the Cleveland Museum of Art
What do you see? A portrait of Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of the innkeeper from whom Van Gogh rented a room. Adeline wears a blue dress with a high collar, a white bodice under it, and a blue ribbon in her hair. The color of the dress matches her blue eyes. While she was 12 years old when Van Gogh created this painting, she looks much older. This was actually the idea of Van Gogh, as he wanted to portray her as the woman she would become.
Her expression is a bit aggressive or unhappy, which may imply that she hears about her future as a woman. On the right are two white flowers and a series of green leaves floating in the air. The white flowers may symbolize purity and innocence and may also refer to her future as a married woman.
Backstory: Van Gogh created this painting one month before he committed suicide. He based this painting on an earlier work for which Adeline had posed. His idea was to develop a new style of portrait painting. As he wrote to his brother: “I should like to paint portraits which would appear after a century to the people living then as apparitions.” In other words, he wanted to create a ghostlike image of his sitters.
To his sister Van Gogh wrote: “So I don’t try to do us by photographic resemblance but by our passionate expressions, using as a means of expression and intensification of the character our science and modern taste for color.”
Other versions of Adeline Ravoux: Van Gogh made two other portraits of Adeline Ravoux, which are both in private collections. In one portrait of Adeline Ravoux, she is shown from the thighs up. This is the only portrait that he signed as he gave it to Adeline’s family. He created the portrait in a single afternoon. He made a copy of this painting, using lighter colors for the dress, which he gave to his brother Theo.
Who is Adeline Ravoux? She is the daughter of Arthur Gustave Ravoux, who was an innkeeper at Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, about 20 miles North of Paris. Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life in this inn. Adeline Ravoux is prominently featured in the movie Loving Vincent. Van Gogh wrote in a letter that she was probably 16 years old at the time of the painting, but she was actually only 12 or 13 years old.
Loving Vincent: In 2017, the movie Loving Vincent was released. It is an animated film, based on paintings by Van Gogh. The movie took six years to produce. It takes place one year after the death of Van Gogh and uses characters who Van Gogh painted. As he painted Adeline Ravoux three times, she plays an important role in the movie. The movie was nominated for an Oscar but did not win one.
Auberge Ravoux? Nowadays, Auberge Ravoux is better known as Maison de Van Gogh. It is open to visitors who can see the room in which Van Gogh spent his last nights. Van Gogh spent less than a dollar per day to stay in a room of seven square meters (75 square feet). This fee included meals.
After Van Gogh died, the room was never rented again. There is nothing in that room that remembers of Van Gogh’s stay, which is also reflected in the slogan of the Maison de Van Gogh: “There is nothing to see… but everything to feel.” The picture below shows the Auberge Ravoux in 1890. The person on the left is the owner, Arthur Gustave Ravoux, and Adeline Ravoux is the girl standing in the door opening in the middle.
Who is Van Gogh? Vincent Willem van Gogh (1857-1890) was a Dutch painter who lived most of his painting career in France. He only started painting seriously in 1881 and created almost 900 paintings, of which he completed most during the last two years of his life. He is a Post-Impressionist painter who created mainly landscapes, portraits, and still lifes.
In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris, where he met Paul Gauguin, among others, and these meetings inspired the rest of his painting career. He started to paint more colorful works. Famous works include his series of sunflowers, of which one version is in the National Gallery in London and The Starry Night in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Fun fact: Adeline Ravoux has described in a book by Dr. Tralbaut what she remembers of the day that Van Gogh shot himself. In short, she remembered that Van Gogh had lunch at the inn and that nobody noticed anything unusual about him. However, that day, he had borrowed the gun of Gustave Ravoux, the innkeeper, to scare off the crows that would get to close to his canvas while painting in the fields.
In the evening Van Gogh came back to the inn later than usual, and he quickly went up to his room. When the innkeeper entered his room, he told him that he had shot himself and that he would like to have his pipe and tobacco. He died two days later in the presence of his brother Theo.
Where? Second floor of the Department of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art in the Pushkin Museum
What do you see? The vine harvest in Arles, in the South of France. On the top right is the sun in a yellow sky. The sunlight affects the landscape, starting with the gold-colored river on the right side. The sun makes the vine leaves in the bottom half of the painting look red.
According to a letter written on November 6, 1888, by Vincent van Gogh to his brother, the vineyard looked like red wine in the sunset. The vineyard in the top half of the painting looks yellow, just as Van Gogh observed it during his stroll through the vineyards. A large number of people, mainly dressed in blue, is working in the vineyard. The workers in the background are depicted as blank silhouettes. The field workers are picking vines during fall. They naturally blend in with the vineyard. On the top left is a series of blue and green trees and in the middle background is a house.
Van Gogh used several diagonal lines in his composition and most viewers naturally start looking at the sun when viewing the painting. The viewers’ eyes then move down along the diagonal black line on the left of the river in the direction of the bottom left of the painting.
Backstory: This painting is also referred to as The Red Vineyard at Arles. Van Gogh created it in a single day on November 5, 1888. He painted this work about two weeks after Paul Gauguin joined him in Arles. The colorful works of Gauguin inspired Van Gogh to also use more colors for this painting, and he continued to do that in his later works.
Van Gogh created this painting from his memory, the day after an evening walk through the vineyards near Arles. Van Gogh liked to work from memory rather than by directly painting from observation as painting from memory gives paintings a more artistic look. The only painting that Gauguin completed during his two-month stay in Arles was The Painter of Sunflowers (Portrait of Vincent van Gogh) which is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
In September 1888, Van Gogh also created another painting of the vineyards, called The Green Vineyard. This painting is on display in the Kröller-Müller Museum in The Netherlands.
Symbolism: The main message of this painting is that the people living at the end of the 19th century had to work long days. The workers in this painting are still doing manual labor during sunset at the end of the day. Van Gogh also liked the field workers as they were in sync with nature.
Who is Van Gogh? Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was born in Zundert in the south of The Netherlands. He was the oldest of six children who survived birth and grew up in a very religious family. Vincent wanted to become a pastor, like his father, but failed the entrance exam. Instead, he worked for some time as a missionary. His career as an artist was relatively short.
Van Gogh only started painting at age 27 on the advice of his brother. In 1888, Gauguin visited Van Gogh in Arles. In anticipation of his visit, Van Gogh created his famous series of sunflower paintings. One of the versions of the Sunflowers is in the National Gallery in London. Another famous painting by Van Gogh, created in 1889, is The Starry Night which is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Fun fact: Van Gogh created about 900 paintings and 1100 drawings during his relatively short career but only sold one painting (at least according to official records). In 1890, he sold The Red Vineyard at an art show in Brussels for 350-400 Belgian Francs to the Belgian artist Anna Boch. This is equivalent to about $1,500 today.
In 1906, Anna Boch sold the painting for 10,000 Belgian Francs to the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin. The brother of Anna Boch, Eugène Boch, was a friend of Van Gogh. There are theories that Van Gogh may also have sold a few other paintings, but clear evidence for those theories lacks.
During his life, Theo, the brother of Vincent van Gogh, supported him financially and tried to promote his work as he was an art dealer. However, Van Gogh’s work was different from the popular Impressionist paintings at that time and was not much in demand. There were a few art critics and artists that appreciated his work, but he was ahead of his time for most of the rest of the people. After his death, his works became much more popular.
Where? Room 10 of the San Diego Museum of Art (fourth drawer of the most-left cabinet)
Commissioned by: The magazine La Plume on behalf of The Chap-Book in Chicago
What do you see? An advertisement poster for the American literary magazine The Chap-Book. The scene is the Irish and American Bar in Paris. An anonymous man with a large mustache sits at the bar with a drink. The iconic barman Ralph is preparing a drink for Tom, the driver of the horse-drawn carriage of the Rothschild family, who just arrived. The half-Chinese, half-American-Indian barman was born in San Francisco and known for his special cocktails.
Both Ralph and Tom have a floral decoration on their jacket. In the background, another anonymous man stands behind the bar. The bottom of the poster lists, in small print, the printer (Imprimerie Chaix) and the magazine (La Plume) in which this poster is advertised.
What is The Chap-Book? The Chap-Book was an American magazine published between 1894 and 1898. Every two weeks, an issue was published containing several short literary stories. An issue cost 5 cents in 1895 and contained, on average, about five short stories.
Backstory: The Irish and American Bar was located at the Rue Royale in the center of Paris. The Rue Royale is a short street between the Place de la Concorde and the Place de la Madeleine. The owner of the bar was a Swiss man (Achille) and an Englishman (Reynolds) ran the bar.
While Toulouse-Lautrec preferred to hang around in the artistic Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, the Irish and American Bar was among his favorite spots when he wanted to escape Montmartre. When visiting the bar, Toulouse-Lautrec would encounter many other artists.
Other people frequenting this place where coachmen who were waiting while their employers would dine in one of the fancy nearby restaurants. Toulouse-Lautrec featured this bar in several posters and drawings, including Chocolat Dancing in the Achille Bar.
Other versions: As Toulouse-Lautrec created the original drawing for this poster on a stone tablet, it could be used to create many prints. Toulouse-Lautrec created two versions of this lithograph. The first version does not have the advertising text, and 100 hundred prints of this version were created for collectors. Some of these prints are now owned by museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art.
After the first version was printed on posters, Toulouse-Lautrec added the advertising text and the current poster was printed. Besides the San Diego Museum of Art, prints of this second version are owned by museums like the Art Institute of Chicago. Most museums do not have the lithographs of Toulouse-Lautrec on permanent display as they are sensitive to light exposure.
What is Lithography? An image is painted on a smooth metal or stone surface. This surface can subsequently be used to print multiple copies of the original image. Lithographic posters became popular during the end of the 19th century. The recent advances in color printing made it possible to print colored lithographs relatively cheaply.
Toulouse-Lautrec was among the artists that picked up lithography. He was able to make good money with these lithographs as the laws on public marketing were relaxed and bars, night clubs, and theaters were now allowed to publicly advertise their business.
Who is Toulouse-Lautrec? Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1864-1901) came from a French aristocratic family. He suffered from health problems throughout his life and only became 1.42 m (4 ft 8 in) tall. Despite his aristocratic roots, he enjoyed a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris.
Even though Toulouse-Lautrec could count on the financial support of his family, he earned his own money as a painter, draughtsman, and illustrator. He was one of the first artists who successfully jumped on the opportunity to create advertising posters. His artistic style was inspired by artists like Degas and Manet. A representative example of his paintings is At the Moulin Rouge: The Dance in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which he painted in 1890.
Fun fact: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec loved to spend time in the bar. The Irish and American Bar in this painting was his favorite for some years. He spent so much time there that he invited people that wanted to meet him to the bar. He was typically the last person to leave the bar in the night. He also helped to serve the clients of the bar occasionally. As Toulouse-Lautrec was very short, the owner of the bar had a special platform installed for him such that he could properly serve the clients.
Interested in a copy for yourself? Poster
Where? Part of the Thannhauser collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
What do you see? This painting is situated in a small forest in Tahiti used to grow vanilla. The vanilla vines climb up the trees. The majority of the painting is made up by the landscape. In the bottom half of the painting, Gauguin used abstract color areas to depict the grassland. The forest in the background looks more like a tapestry.
In the right foreground, a man holding his horse can be seen. The man is only wearing black shorts. He is looking down while waiting and does not have much expression on his face. In between the trees, just left to the middle, a woman dressed in white hides in the forest. It seems that the two people have arranged a romantic meeting (a rendezvous) between them that needs to remain a secret.
Synthetism: This is an artistic style used by artists such as Gauguin and Émile Bernard. It is a combination of different approaches to painting. For example, on the one hand, the real world can be depicted in a painting, while, on the other hand, the artist’s dream world can also be depicted.
As Gauguin was an artist who mainly painted from his imagination, he combined the real world which he saw in front of him with the ideas that he had in his mind. In this painting, he combined the landscape in French Polynesia with a scene in his mind from a man with a horse that was inspired by one of the friezes of the Parthenon.
An even better example of this style is the painting Vision after a Sermon by Gauguin. In this painting, several women are leaving the church at the bottom, and they see a vision of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, which was the subject of the sermon.
Who is Gauguin? Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was born in Paris. He was a Post-Impressionist painter. He is known for his experimental use of different colors, which has had a big impact on future artists such as Picasso and Matisse.
On April 1, 1891, Gauguin left to Tahiti, which is the largest island of French Polynesia and lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His idea was to escape from the artificial life in France and to immerse in nature, live like a child would do, and focus on his art. The first painting he created on Tahiti is Hail Mary which is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the same time as the painting In the Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse, he also painted Haere Mai, which is also on display at the Guggenheim Museum.
Gauguin stayed in Tahiti for two years, before returning to France in August 1893. In 1895, he returned to French Polynesia where he stayed until his death. During his life, Gauguin was often struggling for enough money to be a full-time painter, but his work became very popular after his death.
Tahiti: Tahiti is an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is formed by volcanic activity and is a part of France. 70% of the total population (which is less than 200,000) consists of indigenous Tahitians. While many people speak the Tahitian language, French is the official language. The island contains a small airport but has direct flights to Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo. Vanilla is one of the important export products of Tahiti. The island contains a small museum dedicated to Gauguin, appropriately called the Paul Gauguin Museum.
Fun fact: In 1893, Gauguin returned to Paris to sell some of his paintings. During his time there he dressed in traditional Polynesian cloths and started an affair with an exotic teenager. His stay in France was not a success, and his ideas and his reputation were verbally attacked in the Mercure de France magazine by several contemporaries. Disappointed, he returned in 1895 to French Polynesia, where he could focus again on his art without much distraction from the artificial and conventional aspects of life.
Written by Eelco Kappe