Vincent van Gogh, the most mythologized of Impressionists, died 125 years ago, on July 29, 1890. And he is the subject of two ongoing exhibitions recently reviewed by New York Times critics.
The show examines how van Gogh’s use of an unstable “red lake” pigment has led his works to change over the years.
But the paintings we see today are not entirely as van Gogh painted them. He used one of the red lake pigments derived from synthetic dye, drawn to its brilliance while knowing it might fade.
He blended it with blue to make his violet irises and used it fairly straight to add shards of red to the otherwise white roses. He mixed it with white for the pink background of the horizontal iris still life and the pink tabletop of the upright roses.
It may be melodramatic to ascribe a somewhat suicidal quality to the synthetic red lakes, but they did self-destruct, which reverberates with van Gogh’s death by his own hand barely three months later, and it’s worth noting that he could have chosen more lasting reds.
The show’s juiciness is also a matter of science, spurred by the latest technology. The reunion occasioned research into van Gogh’s use of color, specifically his choice of a bright but unstable orange-scarlet version of red lake.
To view all the beautiful photos, and read a history of Vincent Van Gogh by Roberta Smith, click on the link below.
The New York Times: Looking at van Gogh, 125 Years Later.