Vincent van Gogh is considered to be one of the greatest Post-Impressionists of all time. His paintings have captured the minds and hearts of millions of art lovers, and some of the works, such as Starry Night, Sunflowers and The Potato Eaters are considered to be among the most expensive masterpieces in the world. The striking color, coarse brushwork, and contoured forms became the signature of his works. He believed that colors had their own meaning and many expressive possibilities; thanks to them he was able to exhibit his emotions to the world.
Although, I’m not a huge fan of the post-impressionist era, Van Gogh’s works hold something intriguing and appealing to me. His use of the broad brushstrokes, sloppier angles and darker colors create a very masculine aura in his pieces; you will never say that those paintings belong to a woman. Also the fact that this man sold only one painting in his entire lifetime, when he created over 900 paintings and 1000 drawings, makes me think about reasons and circumstances that would have brought about that affect. Every time I visit the Metropolitan Museum, I always try to find the time to go and look at Van Gogh’s artworks.
Usually his Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat was the one I liked the most, but recently his Shoes, which was painted in 1888 (just two years before his death), sparked my curiosity and forced me to question myself – why shoes? I know that during his lifetime he created several shoe-related paintings, but the question still remains the same, why did he choose shoes? What influenced/motivated him? For what purpose did he draw them? After a brief research, I can even say that no one else drew such an object. It was very unusual and uncommon for the nineteenth century.
Exploring the Shoes painting, we can note how the lines arc around the shoe on the right hand side. In some paintings this aura effect can be rather jarring, but in this case, it is quite understated. Van Gogh is claimed to have suffered from terrible migraines, which are known to cause visual effects such as auras around objects and exaggerated, swirling colors. A lot of experts even suggest that there could actually be a connection between Van Gogh’s migraines and his unique visual style. He uses the geometric shapes such as triangles around the opening of the shoes to make them look old and used.
The laces are also presented in a crimped, sharper pattern, suggesting a stiffness of time and wear. The palette of browns and taupes, mixed with splashes of colors: burnt sienna, yellow, turquoise, blood-orange and cyan, is the aspect that makes this piece stand out; it’s a very special way of using colors that don’t go well together (on a regular basis). Looking at the subject matter – shoes – you have a feeling that they had just been taken off and thrown on the floor. You can notice every crack in the leather, appearing as if it was earned from tramping through the streets or the fields.
The medium of this painting is oil on canvas and measures 18 x 21 3/4 in. or 45. 7 x 55. 2 cm. (Accession Number 1992. 374). After reading Cliff Edwards’ book, The Shoes of Van Gogh: A Spiritual and Artistic Journey to the Ordinary, I can say that even though he suffered from multiple illnesses – poor digestion and a bad stomach, hallucinations, nightmares, stupor, absent mindedness, impotence, insomnia, and anxiety (to name a few) – he always tried to find beauty in the everyday life, in the things that other people took for granted, and then illustrated them in his paintings.
If you take a look at his creations, you’ll notice that all of them are very down to earth, nothing godlike or divine. Even though such impressionists as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir significantly influenced Van Gogh with their color palettes and use of light, he was usually inspired by the actual objects that he saw – sunflowers, his room, a chair – and not something non-existent in real life.
That’s why his stream of shoe-related paintings – A Pair of Shoes (1885), Three Pairs of Shoes (1886), A Pair of Boots (1887) and Shoes (1888) – played such a significant role in his mentally-challenged world. I’m not sure if those were actually his footwear or not, but through the way he presented them you can see how close the objects were to his heart. Summarizing all the above, I want to say that in my mind, Vincent Van Gogh was a true genius because being able to create masterpieces out of such ordinary objects indicates that one must really possess a gift of seeing something nobody else is able see.