Avenue Of Poplars In Autumn Oil Painting
Simultaneously his most morbid and humorous study, Van Gogh’s Skull with Burning Cigarette is a tragic-comic masterpiece, and the high point of his work before his trip to Paris exposed him to the world of the Impressionists. The loss of his father in Spring 1885 made an indelible impression on the young Van Gogh, and by Autumn of the same year, he had moved from his family home in Nueuen and was residing in the city of Antwerp.
Living a fraught bohemian existence, the artist consumed coffee, cigarettes, bread, alcohol, and little else. He spent every waking hour and all available funds on the development of his style and skill. Always humble and eager to improve, and having only taken up painting four years previously, Van Gogh enrolled in the art academy in Antwerp. Instead of finding a hotbed of new ideas, the artist found a traditional and deeply conservative academy applying the reproduction of the antiquated techniques of the old masters.
Hoping to be given the opportunity to utilize the academy’s live models, Van Gogh was dismayed to find the class studying the depiction of the human anatomy through the painterly reproduction of skeleton subjects. While clearly a macabre comment on the increasingly gaunt face he saw in the mirror, the painting is also a sly and charismatic cold shoulder to the ways of the old school.
Marking a seismic shift in his style Skull with Burning Cigarette hints at the starkly expressive brush-strokes of his later works and foreshadows the frequent connections that later critics would make between the artist’s subjects and his declining health. Resolute, resilient, and defiant in the face of the methods he felt had lost their relevance, Skull with Burning Cigarette is evidence of an artist with a clear and unwavering vision of the future.
Although Van Gogh learned about artistic techniques while in the academy, he felt the need to go against it and into something new. After having more contact with the Impressionists, Pointillists, and other modern artists, he was able to identify with their way of working that ruptured from the Classic rules of the Academy. This enabled him to work freely, expressing himself and experimenting with unconventional color schemes, compositions, and themes. In Skull with Burning Cigarette, Van Gogh still hasn’t let go of his dark color palette, influenced by former Dutch artists.