Oh yes he did :) Impasto is known as the technique that creates those thick layers of paint on the canvas. Van Gogh is famous for his impasto style that added a lot of emotion and movement to his paintings. Van Gogh’s letters show us how he experimented with impasto, who inspired him, the difficulties using impasto and what use of impasto tells us about his mood.

Did van Gogh use impasto all over the canvas?

This may surprise you, but many of his paintings from late in his career have spots with very thin paint or even unpainted canvas like the Pink Peach Tree (on mobile scroll down for a detail of the original painting).

Vincent van Gogh wrote to Emile Bernard in April 1888:

"I follow no system of brushwork at all; I hit the canvas with irregular strokes which I leave as they are, impastos, uncovered spots of canvas — corners here and there left inevitably unfinished — reworkings, roughnesses; well, I’m inclined to think that the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique.”

Who inspired Van Gogh to use impasto?

In his letters Van Gogh refers to Adolphe Monticelli (1824 - 1886) multiple times, where he seems to not only be inspired but also strongly connected to him.

Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo in September 1888:

"The present studies actually consist of a single flow of impasto. The brushstroke isn’t greatly divided, and the tones are often broken. And in the end, without intending to, I’m forced to lay the paint on thickly, à la Monticelli. Sometimes I really believe I’m continuing that man’s work, only I haven’t yet done figures of lovers, like him."

Did it take Van Gogh longer to paint with impasto?

Van Gogh has painted around 900 paintings and in the end he was able to finish a painting in one day. His pace of painting contributed to his style. Thick impasto, with colors mixed on the canvas, painted outside; Vincent was working hard and fast. But the impasto takes a long time to dry.

About his painting 'Ploughed Fields’ to Theo in September 1888:

"It’s another of those that’ll take a long time to dry; with impasto paintings you have to do the same as with the strongest wine, it has to ferment.”

What is impacted impasto?

Vincent shipped his paintings from the South of France to his brother in Paris by train. Many of these paintings kept unrolled until long after both brothers died. The crushed paint is called impacted impasto, clearly visible in some of the photos on this page.

Does impasto have impact on the color over time?

Already halfway his 10-year career of painting Van Gogh wrote about this. His style was still dark then, but thicker paint was applied already, like in The Potato Eaters. To Theo van Gogh, from Nuenen in November 1885:

“..the colour of my studies in the studio got better rather than worse over time. I think this comes from putting the paint on heavily, where I don’t use any oil. When it’s a year old, the little oil that the paint always contains has sweated out and then one gets the good, solid impasto."

Does impasto have impact on the canvas?

Van Gogh’s painting The Bedroom was damaged so he painted another version. Was impasto one of the reasons? Vincent wrote about it in September 1889:

"It was painted so quickly and dried in such a way that, as the thinner evaporated immediately, the painting doesn’t adhere at all firmly to the canvas. This will also be the case with other studies of mine that were painted very quickly and with a thick impasto. Besides, this thin canvas perishes after a while and can’t take a lot of impasto."

Was Van Gogh’s use of impasto related to his mood?

Vincent’s stay in the asylum calmed him. Perhaps for a short period he used less impasto. Not for long though. His paintings at the end of his life, in Auvers-sûr-Oise, are done with very thick impasto. In September 1889:

"I think it likely that I’ll do hardly any more things in impasto, it’s the result of the calm life of seclusion I’m leading, and I feel I’m better for it. Fundamentally I’m not as violent as that, anyway I feel more myself in calmness."

Theo noticed this and wrote from Paris in January 1890:

"I very much like the women climbing on the rocks and the main road with the road-menders. I feel that there’s more atmosphere in your latest works, more distance than in the preceding ones. Which comes perhaps from the fact that you don’t use so much impasto everywhere.”

Which of Van Gogh’s paintings has the thickest impasto?

One of his paintings with an incredible thick layer of paint all over can be seen in the Kröller-Müller Museum in The Netherlands. Vincent wrote about “Cypresses with Two Figures” in February 1890:

"I think you’ll like the canvas for Mr Aurier (art critic VGS), it’s in terribly thick impasto and worked like certain Monticellis, I’ve kept it for almost a year.”

And perhaps he had overdone the use of impasto. In April 1890, not long before he moved to Auvers-sûr-Oise:

"Then the cypresses are for Mr Aurier. I would have liked to redo them with a little less impasto, but I don’t have the time.”
Did Van Gogh use impasto?
Use of impasto, but also notice the spots with very thin paint or even unpainted canvas (photo from the original Van Gogh painting "Pink Peach Tree", not from our reproduction).

Did van Gogh use impasto all over the canvas?
Another example of very thinly painted canvas combined with impasto (photo from the original Van Gogh painting "The Langlois Bridge", not from our reproduction). The reflection in the top left corner is from the museum glass that protect the painting.

Which of Van Gogh’s paintings has the thickest impasto
"With impasto paintings you have to do the same as with the strongest wine, it has to ferment.” Van Gogh about "Ploughed Fields" (photo from the original Van Gogh painting, not from our reproduction).

Which of Van Gogh’s paintings has the thickest impasto
"Cypresses with Two Figures" may have the thickest impasto of them all (photo from the original Van Gogh painting, not from our reproduction).
 

Reproducing Van Gogh’s impasto style.

At Van Gogh Studio we have focussed on reproducing Van Gogh's paintings. Our artists learn from from the master like Van Gogh was heavily inspired by Millet, Monticelli and the Hiroshige. Instead of creating our own authentic style we try to perfect our technique by copying Van Gogh’s style. Every visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam or any other museum with Van Gogh paintings brings us a little step closer. And looking closely at his use of impasto can not be overlooked.

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