UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of Van Gogh’s suggestive colour in his decoration canvases for the yellow house Ryan, Maureen


In the late summer of 1888, Vincent van Gogh undertakes to paint a number of canvases intended to decorate the Yellow House, his rented accomodation in Aries. Between mid August 1888,when this project is initiated in anticipation of sharin the Yellow House with Paul Gauguin, and October 23 or 24, 1888, when Gauguin arrives in Aries from Pont Aven, seventeen size 30 canvases for this decoration are painted. In describing two of these canvases to Theo van Gogh, Vincent expli-citely states that much of the meaning of his subject matter is to be conveyed by the use of suggestive or expressive colour. Several other times during the period in which the decoration is Vincent's major concern, a reference is made in the letters to Theo, to a concern with exploring the suggestive and expressive possibilities of colour. This thesis examines the nature of Vincent's concept of suggestive colour and it's role in the decoration canvases for the Yellow House As neither aspect of this topic have been examined in the van Gogh literature, this thesis is divided into two parts. In Part One, the concern with suggestive colour is shown to have it's roots in Nuenen in 1884 and 1885 where Vincent was introduced to several art texts that attributed the impact cfDelacroix' paintings to his understanding of the colour laws, in particular the various effects achieved through the juxtaposition or admixture of complementary colours. An analysis of Vincent's writings at this time shows that he gives a symbolic significance to his use of complementary admixtures and uses such colours to convey a particular aspect of his subject matter. While Vincent's palette and technique change radically in Paris and Aries due to Vincent's contact with impressionism and neoimpressionism and the exaggerated colour effects of the Japanese print, the re-emergence of a concern with the suggestive properties of colour which is announced in the early summer of 18 88, is based to a large extent on the significance given to complementary relationships formed in , s-Nuenen. An analysis of the colour structures in several canvases executed in July and early August of 1888, in light of the special role given to complementary relationships, shows that Vincent intended his use of complementary colours to convey much of the meaning of his images. Part Two examines the decoration canvases for the Yellow House. A study of Vincent's letters reveals the Yellow House as an essential part of Vincent's vision of a studio in the south that would give asylum and refuge to artists in need. This studio was to provide for artists of the present and the future, as Vincent sees his own role as a painter as a link in a chain of artists working with colour. By establishing a studio that is to remove the threat of poverty and hardship from artistic life Vincent hoped to create a stable and serene environment, enabling artists to work productively/ in turn effecting an artistic renaissance and a new art of colour. Examined individually within this - context several of the decoration canvases are shown to refer to ijhi.s vision, suggesting a thematic link for the series as a whole. Suggestive colour continues as a major concern during the period in which the decoration canvases are painted. Vincent sees complementary harmonies and contrasts as able to convey "l'idees poetiques" and uses such colour relationships in several of the canvases of the series to convey important aspects of meaning. The decoration for the Yellow House thus emerges as a crystallization of Vincent's vision of an association of artists working towards a renaissance, and as a major effort to formulate an expressive art in the summer and fall of 1888. Both aspects establish the series as an important development in the evolution of Vincent's art and theory.

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