“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”
– Vincent Van Gogh

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A Self-portrait, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886_©wikipedia.org

The artist who dreamt with passion, and gave all to his art, with an unyielding sense of seeing the world around him differently from what it saw in him. One of the most famous artists known in the world today, Vincent Van Gogh was someone whose art and life would inspire many to live the dream. Many of his paintings are considered important assets to the foundation of modern art that even today they make one watch and wonder. The strong, dynamic strokes and bright colours leave a deep impact and build curiosity about what the creator of these must be imagining, what was his vision about his art? How would he express this creativity and imagination in actual spaces? But… what if Van Gogh was an architect?

Life and style

Van Gogh developed an interest in art at a young age and depicted people in static poses as well as landscapes as a study of perspective. His artistry kept evolving as he was exposed to a variety of artists throughout his career. Landscapes constituted a large portion of his artworks, with many of them also being about spaces like his own room at times. His paintings focused more on creating the impression of the mood in the scene rather than intricate details. One of his early landscape works, View of the Sea at Scheveningen shows the raging, foaming sea, and the dark, thundery sky to give a good impression of stormy weather.

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View of the Sea at Scheveningen, Vincent Van Gogh, 1882 reflects the artist’s sense of contemporary Impressionism_©vincentvangogh.org

His artistic style, though in line with the contemporary post-impressionism style, was not popular during his lifetime due to the different subjects and unique use of colours, with his paintings sometimes being a reflection of his troubled state of mind.

According to Albert Aurier in Le Moderniste Illustré in 1889, Vincent van Gogh’s painting style was described as “flame, passion, sunlight”. It has been said that Vincent van Gogh’s artworks were meant to express humanity’s inherent spirituality, which when reflected in his material and approach created dynamic, expressive and emotive compositions that express more than the surface level. Most of his paintings are pieces of post-impressionism art, where individual strokes, even though appearing rough and haphazard on their own, would have meaning in the creation as a whole. 

Van Gogh as an architect would build structures based on expressions of what he learnt by observing the lives of people, the spaces they used as well as the works of other architects. During a period of Gothic and Baroque architecture, with his unique world view, he would build a structure out of the ordinary, maybe asymmetrical among all the symmetrical architecture. 

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Prisoners’ Round, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890_©vincentvangogh.org

An unconventional personality

Van Gogh did not rise to popularity during his lifetime, and his life was full of struggles. Even then he remained passionate about his art and continued to create throughout his life. Even as an architect, he would be the same particular person who loved his craft and his people.

Rather than creating works of conventional aesthetic character like the use of symmetry and proportions, he would emphasize the feeling of the space as a whole. Some of his works would involve the user experiencing a journey through their feelings, like the spaces we see in the Jewish Museum. His artistic expression also shows his understanding of light and shadow, and how they shape the spaces we live in. The play of natural elements, light, shadow and volume would also play a vital role in creating these experiences.

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The Garden of exile in the Jewish Museum Berlin was designed to express contrasting emotions of being lost and hopeful at the same time_©libeskind.com

Even as an architect, one could see him creating something which would appear unpleasant for his time, but would go on to become legendary and inspire many more. One such example is the Eiffel tower, where the network of iron members up close does not offer a certain aesthetic beauty, but as a whole, these elements act in harmony to create the magnificent architecture. Like Impressionist short brushstrokes, the iron segments do not convey a clear form, and visitors are invited to imagine the overall shape for themselves.

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A view of the interior of the Eiffel Tower showing the countless iron beams_©flickr.com

Love for the Living and the Natural

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

 Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh, as an architect, would have a great understanding of how architecture comes together as a combined effort of many from the smallest of workers to the people finally using the space. He would be that architect who would be passionately involved in his work and also got everyone else to be. His creative space would be modest and minimal like the room one can see depicted in some of his paintings. With a small work desk and his sketches scattered around, one can imagine him thinking and working on his craft day and night. Even through his artistic career of about a decade, he created about 2100 artworks.

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©inspiringimages.org

He liked learning about the lives of ordinary people, those of the less-privileged part of society and was empathetic towards them. We can see many of his paintings depicting the lives of labourers, mine workers, and peasants. He managed to express much more about their lives than just their appearance with his gloomy colours, during the era, which saw the use of brighter colour palettes. Once, while working as a missionary, to show support for his impoverished people, he gave up his comfortable lodgings to a homeless person and moved to a small hut. Being an architect, he would be able to understand the needs of these people well and build for their empowerment.

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The Potato Eaters, 1885. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam_©vincentvangogh.org

His love for nature also influenced his art and his way of looking at his surroundings. His vision would be able to create beautiful paintings even from the most ordinary landscapes, also delving into the details of natural elements in many of his works.

Van Gogh admired Japanese art which inspired him to incorporate Japanese characters, and symbols in his works. Japanese art was admired in France in the 1850s, with a plethora of Japanese goods beginning to be imported into France, when he was exposed to Japanese art prints. The clean lines and decorative patterns, and the appreciation for nature, would inspire him even as an architect. He would experiment with the aspects of Japanese art and architecture, like their connection with nature, elements of philosophy, and symbolism, and it would influence his style of architecture; a man with a vision.

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The viaducts at Parc Güell by Antoni Gaudi have a form inspired by nature and evoke a sense of movement and natural growth_©wikipedia.org

An avid dreamer

The art of Van Gogh isn’t about the details of the scene it depicted, but about the feeling that the painting expressed. He painted his dreams and visions onto the canvas where one could see his perspective of the world. One could compare his journey through art and life to an architect like Antoni Gaudi, who also devoted his entire life to his art and created dynamic spaces and buildings which evoke a certain curiosity to dive deeper. Just like his paintings, his work would create architecture which goes out of the ordinary, create a unique identity, set new trends and inspire others for years to come. The bold, bright strokes of Van Gogh’s paintings expressing his inner feelings which go beyond the surface create an urge to think about them and learn about him. Something is entrancing about them in a way that draws you in, like the spiral skies that appear as if they are swirling in The Starry Night.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh,1889_©vincentvangogh.org

References:

  1. Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Vincent van Gogh. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh.
  2. Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). Vincent van Gogh. [online] Available at: https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/vincent-van-gogh/m07_m2?hl=en.
  3. DailyArt Magazine. (2022). Vincent van Gogh and Nature. [online] Available at: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/vincent-van-gogh-and-nature/ [Accessed 27 May 2022].
  4. Henri Matisse. (2009). Vincent van Gogh. [online] Available at: https://www.vincentvangogh.org/.
  5. vangoghmuseum-prod.azurewebsites.net. (n.d.). Van Gogh and his collection of Japanese prints – Van Gogh Museum. [online] Available at: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/japanese-prints/about-the-collection.
  6. RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2022). Influence of Impressionism in architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/architectural-styles/a6960-influence-of-impressionism-in-architecture [Accessed 27 May 2022].
  7. Sooke, A. (2018). Van Gogh and Japan: the prints that shaped the artist. [online] www.bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180611-van-gogh-and-japan-the-prints-that-shaped-the-artist.
Author

An observant and wandering soul, Gandhali has always been fascinated by the power that words can hold. While exploring architecture, she developed an interest to learn about spaces and the life in them, and about seeing architecture through words. She strives to be able to express through her words too.

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