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In addition to his better known oil paintings, Vincent van Gogh produced nearly 150 watercolor paintings during his life. Though often lacking his distinctive brush stroke textures, the watercolors are unmistakably Van Gogh in their use of bold, vibrant color. Often times, these watercolors were used as field studies for their eventual larger oil counterparts.
Similar to his drawings, Van Gogh often did watercolors as studies before doing an oil painting or as practice. Although his watercolors are not as well know as his paintings, Van Gogh knew that he was perfecting his skills and in that he was on the verge of something great. At the age of 28 Vincent wrote the following in a letter to Theo,
"I came away from him with some painted studies and a few watercolours. They are not masterpieces, of course, yet I really believe that there is some soundness and truth in them, more at any rate than what I've done up to now. And so I reckon that I am now at the beginning of the beginning of doing something serious. And because I can now call on a couple of technical resources, that is to say, paint and brush, everything seems fresh again, as it were."
As Van Gogh continued to refine his technique, he used more and brighter colors in his watercolors. Over time he became more comfortable working with watercolors and was able to work quickly with them to produce more impressive works. When he started working with watercolors, Van Gogh used them to add color to his drawings, but as he continued to use them he began creating works that stood alone as watercolors. In the same letter to Theo, in December of 1888, Van Gogh wrote,
"I wish you could see the two watercolours I have brought back with me, for you would realize that they are watercolours just like any other watercolours. They may still be full of imperfections, que soit, I am the first to say that I am still very dissatisfied with them, and yet they are quite different from what I have done before and look fresher and brighter. That doesn't alter the fact, however, that they must get fresher and brighter still, but one can't do everything one wants just like that. It will come little by little."
The Vincent van Gogh Gallery's Watercolor Resource:
High Resolution Images:
- View high resolution image of Bridge at Langlois
- Van Gogh Gallery catalog (scroll the list right and set type filter to 'w' to see all 147 watercolors)
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 21 December 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, published in The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Publisher: Bulfinch, 1991, number 164. URL: http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/10/164.htm.