Vincent Van Gogh
Bowl with Zinnias
Zundert, Netherlands, 1853—Auvers-sur-Oise, France, 1890
Vincent van Gogh arrived in Paris in 1886 to move in with his brother, Theo. The Dutch artist spent the summer almost exclusively creating paintings of floral arrangements, including Bowl with Zinnias. The following spring, van Gogh wrote in a letter to his sister Wilhelmina that he used these pictures as a way to study color, moving away from the earthy tones of earlier works. He wrote: “A year ago I painted nothing but flowers to accustom myself to other colors...I painted in pink, soft and glaring green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange, and a beautiful red.” The artist’s early explorations with color anticipated his later works, where he increasing experimented with vivid hues. In Bowl with Zinnias, van Gogh was also paying homage to the French artist Adolphe Monticelli, who had died that summer in 1886, and whose work the younger painter had seen at an exhibition in Paris. Van Gogh admired Monticelli’s still lifes, which were filled with heavy brushstrokes and rich colors, especially strong red tones. In response, van Gogh painted Bowl with Zinnias with thick dabs of paint and bold reds that flood the blossoms up top as well as the table beneath, emphasized by the dark, heavy background. While some flowers are distinct, others appear more like puddles of paint, showing how van Gogh used these still lifes to learn the language of color.