Van Gogh's Use of Color

by Kristy Ambrose
A self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, who used vibrant colors to express himself.

A self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, who used vibrant colors to express himself.

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Vincent van Gogh's paintings are distinctive, recognizable to even the novice art history student. Part of his signature style is the use of vibrant and varied color. Like other artists of the time who were influenced by Impressionism, Van Gogh used color to convey and express emotions and ideas.

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Van Gogh's Palette

Van Gogh painted the normal and everyday in intense, vivid colors that included bright yellow, light purple and green citron. Colors that Van Gogh used in his works are bright and aggressive but also deliberate. He acknowledged using color in an arbitrary fashion, but this doesn't mean his choices were by accident. He deliberately used colors that were more energetic and hyperbolic to express himself.

Superior Light

The south of France was a popular venue for Impressionist artists for more than just wine, cheese and bohemian lifestyle. The sunlight in the region is luminous and intense, perhaps due to the atmosphere and clear air. The light strikes objects in a diffused manner, illuminating the subject in soft lines and harmonizing the colors. When Van Gogh was working in the city of Arles in this area, he did his most colorful work.

Ideas and Feelings

Van Gogh, like many other artists of the Impressionist movement, used exaggerated colors to convey emotions. However, he also discovered that the consistent use of certain colors could convey feelings of peace and tranquility. Color could also be defiant. Van Gogh said that his use of vibrant color was his "revenge" against being "old, ugly, vicious and poor."

The Painter of the Future

A lot of color and little drawing was the way not to do art, as van Gogh said himself in a letter to a friend in 1882. On the other hand, he also contended that the painter of the future would be "a colorist the like of which has never yet been seen." These beliefs are reflected in his work, which shows how he grew bolder with his use of color as his skills matured.

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About the Author

Kristy Ambrose enjoys writing about teaching, travel and pet care. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Victoria.

Photo Credits

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