Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889 Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888
Another of van Gogh’s pieces, the Night Café (1888), shows an eerie, nearly deserted café in the middle of
the night. The proprietor stands in the center, more ghostly than friendly, and the few customers along the
edges collapse in drunkenness or conspire together. Van Gogh often wrote about his paintings in letters to
his brother Theo. Regarding the Night Café, he described to his brother how he wanted the acrid colors to
create a feeling of oppression, and he called the whole scene “a furnace.” Van Gogh’s art, while
unappreciated in his own time, remains a profoundly moving glimpse into a troubled mind.
Paul Gauguin, like van Gogh, recognized the expressive power of pure
color, although he most often used large flat areas of color. He particularly
rejected the Impressionists claim that the only thing art should show is
visual sensation; instead, he chose to paint visions, dreams, or primitive
religious scenes. If this sounds like romanticism again, you are quite right,
and Gauguin was even more romantic in his desire to escape from the
reality of Parisian life to more exotic places like Polynesia. But the flatness
of his work, his rough technique, and his use of intense color place him as
a Postimpressionist. Gauguin’s Ia Orana Maria (We Hail Thee Mary, 1891)
is a good example of his work. Here, the Christian Madonna and Child
scene is transposed to a Tahitian setting with all its implications of
unspoiled innocence.
At the end of the century, a number of artists firmly rejected the realist
belief that art should only represent what is seen. The symbolists instead
claimed that the most important thing art can express is subjective
experience. Artists like Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon produced splendid fantasies from their dreams
and imaginations that looked forward to the development of the surrealist movement in the twentieth
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