The sudden death of Vincent Van Gogh acted as a catalyst for the realization that he had undoubtedly transformed western art. As Albert Aurier - renowned poet and art critic - put it so eloquently, Van Gogh was a ‘’messiah, a sower of truth, who would regenerate the decrepitude of our art.’’
Shortly after Van Gogh deceased in 1890, his brother, Theo, organised an exhibition in his honour featuring hundreds of his works, virtually unseen by the general public. Although Van Gogh’s painting were eventually exhibited in the Netherlands, many Dutch artists struggled to see the genius in his work, and his art was considered as contrary to Dutch character and culture. Nonetheless, in Paris, where the exhibition was held, the reception was entirely different: whilst some artists adopted his work as visual model, others were captivated by his symbolism. Protagonists such as Derain, Matisse, the Fauves and German expressionists all owe Van Gogh for his refreshing style and for rejuvenating the painted art form. His ‘larger-than-life’ colours and coarse brushstrokes, characteristic of his late style during his period in sunny Southern France, cemented his place in the history books as one of art’s biggest visionaries.
Before Van Gogh, the main focus was on the subject and the painting was meant to realistically portray an object. After his death, paintings no longer had to represent something specific; rather, the intent of the artist was of critical importance. This signalled a move towards an abstract form of art, which is exemplified in his masterpiece The Starry Night. It not only depicts Saint-Remy-de-Provence just before sunrise, but it is also a reflection of Van Gogh’s mental state and what he felt before that scene. It shows that importance of the psychological aspect to understand his works and, although it would take years before full abstraction became recognized as a unique art form, it is considered that the genius of Van Gogh’s signature short, blunt and angular style initiated this movement.
Vincent Van Gogh was not just another painter with extraordinary talent: he revolutionized the interpretative focus of art works while at the same time exposing the world to an almost inimitable painting technique. The symbolism of his forms, use of intense colours and expressive brushstrokes are seen by many as unmatched in the artistic realm.