In 2020 “Van Gogh Alive: The Experience” arrived in Mexico City for the first time, this is one of the most requested multimedia exhibitions throughout the world.
Beauty and Meaning Irises Van Gogh Paintings
Post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is well-known for his focus on depicting nature scenes. His body of work includes many paintings of the night sky as well as landscapes and still lifes.
Of the more than two thousand paintings completed by Van Gogh during his career, irises make a repeat appearance. Van Gogh was known to be an artist who used a significant degree of symbolism in his work, driving many to speculate about his Irises painting.
The iris is a flower with a rich history of symbolism. It earned its name from the Greek Goddess Iris, who was believed to use rainbows to travel between heaven and earth. The French began using irises as a symbol of heaven by the middle ages. It has since become the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, the national symbol of France.
In general, the iris symbolizes faith, wisdom, peace, and hope. The blue variety of iris, in particular, is associated with triumph over adversary, courage, faith, and hope. Blue irises were the variety painted by Van Gogh in each of his iris studies.
A Recurring Theme
Irises appear in more than one of Van Gogh’s paintings. In all, the artist created four paintings with irises as the focus. The most famous of these works, however, is Irises, which was painted during Van Gogh’s time in the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum. The painting was inspired by the flower gardens that surrounded the hospital that could be seen from Van Gogh’s window.
The flowers in the painting consume much of the canvas, leaving limited room for background and foreground. Heavy brushstrokes and color choices define each flower. Each flower is also made unique by the individualistic style with which Van Gogh painted the petals.
It is possible that he was using this study as a way to express his individuality, using the irises as a metaphor for the human experience. He often felt alone in his life, having difficulty maintaining relationships with his friends and family. This was also fueled by the many health issues that Van Gogh suffered from throughout his life.
Van Gogh was inspired by Japanese artists of the time, and this fascination can be seen in Irises. Woodblock prints were common in Japanese art at the time, many featuring flowers and other natural features. Japanese woodblock prints were often made with water-based inks that created wide ranges of colors and glazes. Van Gogh purchased a number of these prints and kept them for inspiration in his landscape works.
Furthermore, Irises is an interesting painting because it stands out against Van Gogh’s later works. The techniques he used to create the painting show a distinct shift from his earlier works. It’s possible that Van Gogh shifted his technique as a way of growing as an artist. The shift in artistic style could be indicative of a change in his life that marked the beginning of a new start for Van Gogh. The artist went through a period of increased optimism a year prior in 1880, during which he focused more on painting flowers and landscapes. Perhaps Van Gogh’s reemerging focus on flowers in Irises was indicative of another burst of optimism.
While it is clear that Van Gogh completed Irises as a nature study, it’s possible that there was a deeper meaning in his choice. These flowers may have been chosen to symbolize his struggle with mental health, and his hope that he may improve. This would be particularly likely given that this painting was completed during Van Gogh’s time in a mental health institution.
Yearning for Freedom
It is important to note that Irises was painted during a time when Van Gogh was confined to an asylum as many of his most famous paintings were. Despite having been admitted willingly, it’s clear that he felt a yearning for the outside world. His time in Saint Remy was spent in significant amounts of isolation, both from his normal routine and his brother, with whom he had a close relationship.
It’s possible that Van Gogh’s desire to be out of the asylum drove him to paint what he could see from his window. Perhaps painting the flowers was Van Gogh’s way of escaping his confinement for a short time. Many consider this message inspirational and view the painting as a tale of endurance.
Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the asylum in Saint Remy produced more than a hundred of his most famous works including Irises. Painted just a year before his suicide, the work is considered one of his most inspiring pieces, displaying his artistic skills as well as his perseverance in the face of mental illness. The painting continues to inspire those who struggle with mental illness by providing hope in the face of adversity.
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