Early Paintings by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh's The Potato Eaters is an  (32-1/4 x 45 inches) that is housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. See more pictures of van Gogh paintings.

The early paintings of Vincent van Gogh reflected the painter's innate command of color, intense effort and self-discipline, and desire to depict nature and working-class subjects.

At the age of 27, Vincent wrote to his brother Theo of his burning desire to change the course of his life. He had spent his youth in the pursuit of a rewarding vocation, but every one of his attempts met with failure. Recalling the enthusiasm for paintings that he had enjoyed during his years as an art dealer, he confessed, "I am often homesick for that land of pictures."

van Gogh Image Gallery

But rather than return to the profession that would once again surround him with works of art, he now planned to rely upon his own initiative and become a painter.

Vincent van Gogh spent the following years studying disciplined drawing in The Hague and practicing plein air painting -- painting outside -- to capture the fleeting effects of natural light and atmosphere. Later, van Gogh studied the working poor as subjects while living with his parents in Neunen, the Netherlands.

The early paintings of Vincent van Gogh represent an artist discovering his passion. The following pages take you to these paintings.

  • View of the Sea at Scheveningen: Vincent van Gogh created this painting while visiting the fishing village of Scheveningen. Learn about View of the Sea at Scheveningen, which Vincent van Gogh painted while at The Hague.
  • Carpenter's Yard and Laundry: This rendering of the view outside Vincent van Gogh's studio window displays the artist's innate skill. Observe the meticulous detail of Carpenter's Yard and Laundry.
  • Young Girl in a Wood: As Vincent van Gogh grew more confident with color, he created this painting. Learn how Vincent van Gogh developed his skill for color with Young Girl in a Wood.
  • Flower Beds in Holland: This luminous painting shows Vincent van Gogh's early understanding of landscape. Learn about Flower Beds in Holland, which Vincent van Gogh painted during his second year in The Hague.
  • Peat Field: Focusing on the subject of agricultural labor, Vincent van Gogh created this bold painting while living in the province of Drenthe. Observe the solid, monumental figures of Peat Field.
  • The Loom: While living with his family in Nuenen, Vincent van Gogh sought his subjects among the working poor, like the weaver in this painting. Learn about The Loom.
  • Lane of Poplars at Sunset: This striking early painting by Vincent van Gogh reflects his continued explorations of landscapes. Observe how Vincent van Gogh depicted the change of seasons in Lane of Poplars at Sunset.
  • The Parsonage Garden in the Snow: This painting juxtaposes a stark winter garden with a golden sky. Observe the panoramic scope of Vincent van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden in the Snow.
  • The Potato Eaters: This painting depicts a peasant family gathered for a modest dinner. Learn how The Potato Eaters reflects the sincerity Vincent van Gogh aimed to capture in his paintings.
  • Woman Winding Yarn: Vincent van Gogh studied figures absorbed in mundane work while living in Neunen. Learn about Woman Winding Yarn, an example of Vincent van Gogh's explorations of the working poor.
  • Still Life with Bible: This painting represents one of Vincent van Gogh's many early studies in still life. Learn how Still Life with Bible reflects Vincent van Gogh's intense artistic discipline.
  • Sheaves of Wheat: Vincent van Gogh finished this painting during his last summer in Nuenen. Observe how Vincent van Gogh captures natural light in Sheaves of Wheat.
  • The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam: After moving to Antwerp, Vincent van Gogh sought his subjects in the city's dock, its ships, and its workers. View the artist's depiction of these subjects in The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam.
  • Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat: One of Vincent van Gogh's early self-portraits, this painting depicts an artist in transition. Learn about Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat, which Vincent van Gogh created shortly after arriving in Paris.

When creating his early works, Vincent van Gogh often painted outside, insisting on capturing nature in its own element. Take a look at View of the Sea at Scheveningen, the painting in the next page, for an example.

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View of the Sea at Scheveningen by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh's View of the Sea at Scheveningen is an oil on canvas (13-1/2x20 inches) that is housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh's View of the Sea at Scheveningen is an oil on canvas (13-1/2x20 inches) that is housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

View of the Sea at Scheveningen was painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1882. This early painting reflects van Gogh's practice of painting outside in an effort to capture all the elements of nature.

While living in The Hague, van Gogh made regular trips to Scheveningen, a nearby fishing village. He had begun to experiment with oil paint, and he set up his easel on the bleak stretch of beach and worked directly on his canvas in the windblown sand. His strong and bold approach to the composition, using broad horizontal zones to delineate sand, water, and sky, was matched by his thick and expressive application of pigment. His compulsion to capture his observations on the spot reflects his awareness of contemporary Impressionism.

Many of van Gogh's early works reflect a strong commitment to artistic discipline. For an example of this, observe the meticulous detail of the painting in the next section, Carpenter's Yard and Laundry.

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Carpenter's Yard and Laundry by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh's Carpenter's Yard and Laundry, pencil, pen, brush, heightened with white (11-1/4x18-1/2 inches), is housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Vincent van Gogh's Carpenter's Yard and Laundry, pencil, pen, brush, heightened with white (11-1/4x18-1/2 inches), is housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh completed Carpenter's Yard and Laundry in 1882. A depiction of the view out of his studio window, the piece is a meticulous and innately skillful rendering.

Working with pencil, pen, and brush, he demonstrated a precise hand and an exacting eye. He created a deep and credible spatial recession through the structure of the architectural elements, but his handling of the figures was less certain, as seen in the proportions of the man pushing the wheelbarrow along the road on the right.

Van Gogh discovered his gift for color through many of his early works, including Young Girl in a Wood. Learn about this painting in this next section.

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Young Girl in a Wood by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh's Young Girl in a Wood is an oil on canvas (15-1/4x23-1/4 inches) that is housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Vincent van Gogh's Young Girl in a Wood is an oil on canvas (15-1/4x23-1/4 inches) that is housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh painted Young Girl in a Wood in 1882. The painting gives early indications of van Gogh’s gift for color.

While living in The Hague, van Gogh sought informal instruction with painter Anton Mauve, who worked with him on drawing and color theory. As his confidence grew, van Gogh loosened his stroke and adopted a more daring approach to color, as seen in the warm palette of this woodland scene. He explained his development as intuitive, writing to his brother Theo, "I know for sure that I have an instinct for color."

With its color contrast and wide perspective, Flower Beds in Holland is an important early van Gogh piece. Learn about it in the next section.

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Flower Beds in Holland by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Flower Beds in Holland is an oil on canvas (19-1/4x26 inches) housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Vincent van Gogh’s Flower Beds in Holland is an oil on canvas (19-1/4x26 inches) housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Vincent van Gogh painted Flower Beds in Holland in 1883. The painting is an early example of van Gogh’s approach to landscapes.

During his second year in The Hague, van Gogh painted this small but luminous view of tulip fields in blossom. The foreground of his composition, observed from a low position, seems to rise sharply, accentuating the low horizon in a panoramic effect. The thatched cottages and bare tree trunks in the distance are engulfed in somber shadow, a striking contrast to the bright colors of the flower beds. These elements -- raked perspective and tonal contrast -- persisted in Vincent's conception of landscape painting.

Many of van Gogh's early works focused on the theme of agricultural labor. For an example of this, observe Peat Field, the painting in the next section.

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Peat Field by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Peat Field is an oil on canvas (10-3/4x14-1/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Peat Field is an oil on canvas (10-3/4x14-1/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh completed Peat Field in 1883, after his move to the picturesque province of Drenthe, Netherlands. The painting reflects van Gogh’s focus on the subject of agricultural labor.

The heavy, bent forms of the women working in the field, reduced almost to silhouette, recall the monumental solidity of the figures in Jean-François Millet's The Gleaners (1857). But the daring handling of the sky, in striations of green, orange, and gold, is van Gogh's own bold concept.

The Loom explores the theme of mundane work -- a recurring one in van Gogh's early works. Learn about this painting in the next section.

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The Loom by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s The Loom is an oil on canvas (27-1/2x33-1/2 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Vincent van Gogh’s The Loom is an oil on canvas (27-1/2x33-1/2 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh completed The Loom in 1884. The confining structure of the large loom displays the weaver fully absorbed in his task, reflecting a parallel intensity van Gogh sensed in his own endeavors.

Living in Drenthe, Netherlands, Vincent quickly ran through his limited resources for art supplies. Early in the new year, he moved to Nuenen, where his father had relocated the family to a new parsonage. He sought his subjects, such as this weaver, whom he paid a small fee to pose, among the working poor.

Many of van Gogh's paintings were explorations of landscapes. Lane of Poplars at Sunset is an early example. Learn about it in the next section.

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Lane of Poplars at Sunset by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Lane of Poplars at Sunset is an oil on canvas (18x12-3/4 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Vincent van Gogh’s Lane of Poplars at Sunset is an oil on canvas (18x12-3/4 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.

Completed in 1884, Lane of Poplars at Sunset is representative of Vincent van Gogh’s early interest in landscapes, as well as his continued explorations of color.

Completed in 1884, Lane of Poplars at Sunset is representative of Vincent van Gogh’s early interest in landscapes, as well as his continued explorations of color.

Van Gogh sought to capture the natural effects of seasonal change through color. The flame-red foliage of the stands of poplar gain intensity from the low angle of the setting sun. Flanking the path, they cast red-brown shadows, but where the sun breaks through, the ground takes on an orange glow. The chill in the air is expressed in the way the woman on the path gathers her shawl around her to protect against the cold.

Varied brush strokes make Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen unique among van Gogh's early works. Learn about it in the next section.

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Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is an oil on canvas (16-1/4x12-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is an oil on canvas (16-1/4x12-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen in 1884. The solid form of the chapel with its high, pointed spire anchors the composition of the painting.

The stone building topped by its dark roof rises in front of a bright blue sky filled with soft white clouds. In the foreground, Vincent has roughed in the townspeople with a few quick strokes. His varied brush stroke -- cross-hatched on the chapel, feathery for the dry leaves on the bare branches, thick on the garments of the figures -- adds expressive force to a straightforward subject.

The Parsonage Garden in the Snow is breathtaking in scope and stark in color. Learn about this early van Gogh painting in the next section.

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The Parsonage Garden in the Snow by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden in the Snow is an oil on canvas on panel (20-3/4x30-3/4 inches) housed in the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
Vincent van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden in the Snow is an oil on canvas on panel (20-3/4x30-3/4 inches) housed in the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Completed in 1885, The Parsonage Garden in the Snow featured a panoramic span of the view of a garden. The painting recalls Carpenter's Yark and Laundry, and the view Vincent van Gogh painted out of his studio window at The Hague.

There is a mournful aura in the starkness of the garden in winter, with bare trees and patches of snow on the hardened ground. But the sky in the distance has a golden glow, and the silhouette of the chapel rises high over the horizon.

Van Gogh explored the relationship between color and subject in The Potato Eaters. Learn about this early van Gogh painting in the next section.

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The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters is an oil on canvas (32-1/4x45 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters is an oil on canvas (32-1/4x45 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters in 1885. This early painting is representative of van Gogh’s attention to the relationship between color and his subjects.

After months of observing the local peasants' daily routines, van Gogh depicted a family gathered around the table for a modest dinner of the potatoes grown in their own garden. He chose his colors purposefully to connect his sitters with the earth that sustained them. The stark interior, their rough hands, and weather-beaten faces were the legacy of their life of labor. Neither sentimental nor romantic, The Potato Eaters expressed the compassionate sincerity of Vincent's aims in art.

Van Gogh continued his study of residents of the local farm community. The next painting further reflects his interest in them.

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Woman Winding Yarn by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Woman Winding Yarn is an oil on canvas (16-1/4x12-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Woman Winding Yarn is an oil on canvas (16-1/4x12-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh completed Woman Winding Yarn in 1885. In this painting, van Gogh masterfully marries subject, expression, and color.

After more than a year working in Nuenen, Netherlands, van Gogh formulated a plan to create a large, important painting to launch his career. Late in 1884, he began a series of studies of figures absorbed in mundane work: sewing, spinning, and digging. He chose his models from the local farm community and limited his palette to dark, earthy tones. He wrote to his brother Theo, "one must paint the peasants as being one of them.”

Van Gogh explores contrast between color and theme in Still Life with Bible. Learn about this early van Gogh painting in the next section.

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Still Life with Bible by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Still Life with Bible is an oil on canvas (25-1/2x33-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Still Life with Bible is an oil on canvas (25-1/2x33-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted Still Life with Bible in 1885. Through this still life painting van Gogh communicates his early devotion to artistic discipline.

In his quest to become a painter, van Gogh arranged still lifes in the studio to train his eye and hand. He was following the tradition of his own heritage, admiring the compositions of the past masters of Holland that featured either the bounty of the merchant's import trade or the basic elements of a rustic repast. In this painting, van Gogh featured deeply personal objects: the Bible of his father's religious traditions and a contemporary novel by Émile Zola.

Van Gogh believed natural light could not be recreated indoors, leading him to often set up his easel outside. For an example of a painting created like this, observe Sheaves of Wheat in the next section.

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Sheaves of Wheat by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat is an oil on canvas (15-3/4 x 11-3/4 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum, in Otterlo, Netherlands.
Vincent van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat is an oil on canvas (15-3/4 x 11-3/4 inches) housed in the Kröller-Müller Museum, in Otterlo, Netherlands.

Vincent van Gogh painted Sheaves of Wheat in 1885. The painting is a prime example of van Gogh’s commitment to painting outside the studio.

Setting up his easel in the fields, van Gogh painted the harvest during his last summer in Nuenen, Netherlands. He depicted the female workers digging and raking, but he also painted the sheaves of wheat, tied into bundles for storage. His dedication to painting outdoors endured because he believed that the natural light on the fields could not be duplicated in the studio.

Vincent van Gogh captured life on the dock in The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam. Keep reading to learn about this painting.

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The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam is an oil on canvas (8x10-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam is an oil on canvas (8x10-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam in 1885. The painting is among the first van Gogh created upon his move to Antwerp, Belgium, in November, 1885.

With only a small allowance from his brother Theo, he lived frugally, hoping to convince the local art dealers to sell his work from Nuenen, Netherlands. He made regular visits to the many art galleries and museums in Antwerp to study the works of Peter Paul Rubens and Franz Hals. But he found his subjects at the docks, where he set up his easel to paint the sea and the ships at various times of the day.

As van Gogh continued to pursue his studies, his confidence with complex subjects grew, as shown in Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette. Learn about this painting in the next section.

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Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette is an oil on canvas (12-1/2x9-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette is an oil on canvas (12-1/2x9-1/2 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette from 1885 to 1886. The painting was created while van Gogh was a student at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.

To improve his command of the human figure, Vincent attended life classes at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, where a skeleton was used to study anatomy. The burning cigarette placed between the teeth of this bare skull typifies the irreverent humor that often reigned among art students, but the striking feature of this painting is van Gogh's vital and confident handling of a complex subject.

Vincent van Gogh completed one of his first self-portraits in 1886. Keep reading to learn about this painting.

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Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat is an oil on canvas (16-1/4 x 12-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat is an oil on canvas (16-1/4 x 12-3/4 inches) housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Vincent van Gogh painted Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat in 1886. The painting is one of van Gogh’s earliest self-portraits.

In the painting, van Gogh is dressed in street clothes: a voluminous cloak and a dark brown felt hat pulled low on his forehead. His piercing blue eyes are deeply shadowed beneath his furrowed brow and his bright, ginger-red beard is muted in the low light of the painting. This portrait, painted shortly after his arrival in Paris, features the restrained and earthy range of hues that typified his peasant subjects. Van Gogh presents himself in a phase of transition, wary but ready to face a new life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Debra N. Mancoff is an art historian and lecturer and the author of numerous books on nineteenth-century European and American painting, including Publication International, Ltd.'s, Monet and Impressionism. Other titles include Sunflowers, Monet's Garden in Art, Van Gogh: Fields and Flowers, and Mary Cassatt: Reflections of Women's Lives. Ms. Mancoff is a scholar in residence at the Newberry Library.