Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) really started painting in his late twenties and most of his famous works date from the last couple of years of his too short life - he died at 37. He had spent his younger years working for art dealers, wishing to become a pastor, working as a missionary… and doing some art studies. Then, he decided to become an artist. His first major painting may be The Potato Eaters from 1885 – he was 32. In March 1886 he moved to Paris, sharing a flat with his younger brother Theo, first for a short while to an address at rue Laval (today rue Victor Massé), then for a longer period at rue Lepic, with interruptions for stays with his painter friend (rather parents of) Emile Bernard in the northern suburb Asnières. He left Paris for Arles in February 1888. This post will give some glimpses of his Paris period, which consequently lasted more or less two years.
Of the more than 800 oil paintings known by Vincent, some 225-230 are from the Paris period, some 330 from the short Arles – St. Remy period and close to 80 from the last Auvers-sur-Oise months – an enormous production over just a few years, not mentioning drawings, watercolours….
We can see how his art developed during the two Paris years, from rather dark to much brighter, influenced by impressionism and more particularly by some post-impressionist friends…
… and probably also by a few months at the Atelier Cormon, where he studied, met and became friends with other artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard… (Some pretend that Vincent is in the front row in the photo below, but this seems hardly possible - the photo obviously dates from a year before Vincent’s arrival in Paris.)
Living at rue Lepic (see previous post), it was obvious and easy for Vincent to paint Montmartre. Here are some windmill examples, especially of course mainly concerning the Moulin de la Galette ones – Blute-fin and Radet…
… but there are many other Montmartre ones….
… e.g. the garden of this restaurant which looks different today (especially a winter day).
He also already showed an interest in sunflowers…
… and made some visits elsewhere around Paris.
This is where he stayed with Theo, rue Lepic. He painted the view from the windows at least twice.
Theo later moved to another address, Cité Pigalle. Vincent made short visits here on his return from the south and when living in Auvers-sur-Oise.
There are also some other Vincent-linked addresses in the Montmartre – Pigalle area:
Vincent became friends with Julien (Père) Tanguy, who sold painting equipment and exhibited Vincent’s works, especially the ones influenced by Japanese prints. In this portrait which Vincent made of his friend (he made at least two more), we can also see in the background some examples of Vincent’s works inspired by Japanese masters like Hiroshige (1797-1858), Toyokuni (1769-1825), Eisen (1790-1848)… He sold nothing.
Vincent also exhibited in a café, called Le Tambourin, on Boulevard de Clichy, belonging to a lady called Agostina Segatori (who had modelled for Manet and others). Again, nothing was sold. But Vincent painted Agostina and Toulouse-Lautrec (who also exhibited here) painted Vincent.
Vincent together with some friends (again Emile Bernard, Toulouse-Lautrec and others) also showed their paintings at the Bouillon-Restaurant du Chalet on Avenue de Clichy… and once again he didn’t sell anything, but some of his friends did.
Here we can see where the above-mentioned spots in the Montmartre-Pigalle are to be found. However, of course, the cafés - and sometimes even the buildings – are gone.
What did Vincent look like? Here we can see some of the self-portraits he did during the two Paris years.
There are few photos of him, only one in adult age, unfortunately we see him only from the back, discussing with his friend Emile Bernard. (There is one photo who some claim to be him at the age of 34 or 35, but this is contested.)
Emile Bernard (1868-1941), who we can see in the photo with Vincent, then only 20 years old, was a close friend and Vincent spent much time at Asnières, a northern suburb on the Seine banks, where Emile then lived with his parents.
Before showing some works, here I have tried to spot where some of the paintings from this neighbourhood were made – and also where the photo of Emile Bernard and Vincent was taken.
It's not easy to find the same angle, the Seine banks have changed considerably.
Vincent and Emile were obviously separated by a few meters when they made these ones of the railway bridge with the Pont d’Asnières in the background.
As I said, the banks have changed a lot, the nice restaurants are gone…
From what we can see on the above detailed map, a bridge, Pont de Clichy, is not there anymore – has been replaced. From an island which has also gone or from the opposite bank, Vincent has painted two buildings which still stand there, but they seem less high; the bottom floors are now underground.
Here we are close to what later became a pet cemetery (see previous post) and a little park (Voyer d’Argenson) which used to surround a castle.
I think something should be said about Emile Bernard here, who proved to be a very good friend and did a lot to promote Vincent’s works after his too early death. Emile had a different style, more related to Gauguin – another friend of his and for a while to Vincent. It may be referred to as “cloisonnisme” with more bold and flat forms. We can already see this in the above painting of the bridges.
Vincent wrote hundreds of letters to his brother, family and friends, in Dutch, in English, in French. Another proof of the friendship between Vincent and Emile may be these letters by Vincent to Emile where he during his Arles period explains what he’s painting.
Emile was also, with Pisarro, Père Tanguy… present during Vincent’s funeral at the end of July 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise. He also made a painting of the event. Of course his greatest supporter, his brother Theo, was also there. He died only a few months later. Vincent was treated by Docteur Gachet, a friend of many painters and an amateur painter himself – who made the portrait of Vincent, beardless, on his deathbed.
Well, one painting by Vincent was sold during his lifetime, a few months before his death, The Red Vineyard, painted in Arles. It was bought by Anna Boch, artist herself and sister of Vincent’s friend Eugène Boch. It was exhibited in Brussels and sold for 400 francs (something like 1500-2000 € or 1800-2400 $ in today’s value?).