Sunday, 24 January 2010

Van Gogh's Palette 1882

Van Gogh's Palette (Sketch in Letter 253)
photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last Tuesday I found myself looking at an original letter by Vincent Van Gogh in which he had described the colours he had bought and had drawn a sketch of his palette (see above).
Moreover, I now have all the essentials for proper painting. And a supply of paint — big tubes (which work out much cheaper than small ones), but you will understand that I’ve limited myself to simple colours in both watercolour and oil: ochre (red, yellow, brown), cobalt and Prussian blue, Naples yellow, terra sienna, black and white, supplemented with some carmine, sepia, vermilion, ultramarine, gamboge in smaller tubes.
But I refrained from buying colours one ought to mix oneself.
I believe this is a practical palette, with sound colours. Ultramarine, carmine or something else are added if absolutely necessary.
Letter 253 To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 5 August 1882.
You can see this letter and others in the exhibition The Real Van Gogh - the Artist and his Letters which opened to the public yesterday at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It marks the publication of a new edition of the Van Gogh letters following a major research project.

I posted an introduction to this on Making A Mark The Real Van Gogh at the Royal Academy. I'll be writing more about this exhibition on this blog and Making A Mark during the next week.

What's interesting is that the letter lists the colours in dutch, the website translates this into English but the sketch lists the colours in French. Whcih rather suggests he was either buying supplies of French paint or the Dutch colourmen used the names established by the French.

So far as I can make out from my photograph (with the aid of a colour chart of Sennelier oils in French) he lists the colours as follows (from left to right):
  • blanc d'argent
  • jaune de naples
  • ocre jaune
  • ocre rouge
  • ocre brûlée
  • terre de sienne
  • cobalt ou bleu de prusse
  • noir d'ivoire
  • vermillon
The surviving letters written and received by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) are contained in a new edition of his letters which were published at the end of last year. It's the result of a project undertaken by the Van Gogh Museums which has lasted some 15 years.

The letters are published:
  • in book format by Thames and Hudson - The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters by Nienke Bakker, Leo Jansen, Hans Luijte. This contains the original letter, a translation, notes about matters referenced in the letters and a facsimile image of the actual letter and images of all the original sketches and works to which they relate.
  • on a dedicated website run the Van Gogh Museum - Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. This also contains images of the work
In traditional scholarly publishing terms, this web edition is a study edition. That is to say it is intended for Van Gogh specialists, art historians and literary scholars studying Van Gogh’s letters or work, and students of art history, the history of literature and allied disciplines.
They are a fascinating read and I recommend them to anybody wanting to know more about how Van Gogh worked - and approached the business of painting landscapes.

What do you think of his palette?

Note: The Real Van Gogh - the Artist and his Letters
  • Opens to the public: 23rd January 2010
  • Closes: Sunday 18th April 2010
  • Open 10am - 6pm daily; Fridays open until 10pm; Saturdays open until 9pm.
  • All days last admission 30 minutes before closing time

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