On the advice of his beloved brother Theo, Van Gogh attempted to brighten up his palette of colors, instead of the somber hues found in his early works produced in Nuenen in the Netherlands such as Autumn Landscape, Autumn Landscape with Trees, and Avenue of Poplars in Autumn.
With no sign of commercial success, Theo urged the young artist to follow the work of the famous Impressionists and their bright, sharp contrasts of colors and vivid reproduction of reality. Consequently, Van Gogh moved to Paris to acquaint himself with the lives and techniques of the pioneering artistic circle of Belle Epoque France. Bowl with Peonies and Roses is one Van Gogh's earliest attempts to revise his palette and style towards a creative output that could guarantee him a living. One of a number of studies in color, Bowl with Peonies and Roses is a pyrotechnic burst of living shades, as the deep crimson paradoxically brings out of the pale pink flowers.
Inspired by the paintings he encountered in the museums of Paris, Van Gogh initiated a rigorous process of experimentation and study. For a short time, he painted only flowers, of which he had little experience in depicting. Within this reproduction of a still-life scene one can see the first subtle steps into a new world of expressive brush strokes, formal shifts in color, and jagged paintwork giving momentum to rapid motion across the canvas. Bowl with Peonies and Roses, like many of Van Gogh's work, is an elemental and seasonal work—the artist abruptly stopped painting flowers in September 1886 when the best blooms of the season were finished and took up the challenge again only in Spring 1887 when they came back. Within this humble experiment is the energy and surge of a rare sophistication of style.
Like the title states, this painting portrays a dark green bowl holding pink roses. On the table lies a red, an orange and two white peonies. Van Gogh was still on the path of letting go of his dark color pallet—inherited by early Dutch painters—but his iconic loose brush strokes were already visible. The stokes used in the dark red background form a sort of halo around the flowers, and the strokes on the green table look like ripples of water.
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