What are we investigating?
Van Gogh’s Studio Practice
In his drawings and paintings, Vincent van Gogh experimented with a variety of materials and techniques. His choice of certain supports (canvas, panel, board or paper), grounds, pigments and inks affected the appearance of his artistic work. Today, we wonder how Van Gogh made his creative choices. How did his working methods develop? And how was his studio practice shaped by the context in which he lived and worked?
In 2005 the Van Gogh Museum, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) and Shell formed an innovative, multidisciplinary team to answer such questions, pursuing a collaborative research project in art history, technology, and natural science: Van Gogh’s Studio Practice.
The objective is to deepen our understanding of Van Gogh’s working methods and place them in the context of his times. That context was formed by Van Gogh’s contemporaries, by the artists who were among his friends, by the art he saw at exhibitions, by the manuals available to him, and by the materials, tools and aids available on the market.
The knowledge acquired from this project will make it possible to say more about the original appearance of particular works of art. It will also help us to take even better care of the works of Van Gogh and his contemporaries in the future.
The research team’s many questions about the techniques, media and knowledge used by Van Gogh to achieve the effects he sought in his work can be classified into four research domains:
- Materials and tools
The artist chooses his materials, such as types of canvas, grounds, pigments, paper and drawing materials, and uses them to create a work of art. In the process, he uses tools such as brushes, pens, a palette knife, a perspective frame, a stump, an India rubber and a scraping knife.
- Technique and finishing steps
The way in which the artist uses his tools and materials is his technique. Finish includes the treatment of borders, the signature, annotation, and ideas about framing.
A work of art is created under certain conditions: in the studio or out of doors; in fair weather, rain or fierce wind; and by dim or bright light. This category also encompasses factors such as the financial situation and health of the artist.
To achieve technical proficiency and continue developing, an artist must acquire both practical and theoretical knowledge. He achieves this by reading manuals, studying at an academy or in the workshop of an established artist, paying frequent visits to art exhibitions and staying in touch with fellow artists and others in the art world.
The research is being conducted by three working groups, each focusing on a particular period in Van Gogh’s artistic career: Holland, Antwerp/Paris and Arles/Saint-Rémy/Auvers.
Find out more about the working groups.