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Van Gogh's studio practice

Van Gogh's work process in the context of his time.

The evolution of Van Gogh's studio practice was investigated; how did the artist make his choices and to what extent were these determined by the context in which he lived and worked. 

Detail of a wax crayon drawing by Van Gogh, The Violinist, 1887 Paris

Detail of a wax crayon drawing by Van Gogh, The Violinist, 1887 Paris.

This context is formed, amongst other things, by the circumstances under which he worked, his contacts with his contemporaries/artist friends, by the art he saw at exhibitions, by the handbooks available and by materials, equipment and tools that were on the market.

Wealth of information

The RCE conducted a systematic, oeuvre-spanning, material-technical research of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the context of his time. A total of about 75 paintings, 100 drawings and 30 letters were examined as well as some 35 paintings and drawings by contemporaries. This research has yielded a wealth of information on the materials used by Van Gogh; their ageing behaviour and the way the artist applied them.


For example, Van Gogh's colour palette was reconstructed for each period and the supports used (canvas, paper, cardboard and panel) were recorded. The reuse of canvasses was also studied. In some cases the paint or canvas could be traced to particular suppliers. In addition, more insight was gained into the drawing and writing inks used, and the development of the use of wax crayons was outlined. The research revealed that Van Gogh was open to new materials such as wax crayons, purple aniline ink and geranium red (lake). The latter two fade rapidly under the influence of light and their use has had a disastrous effect on the original richness of colours in his works.

New knowledge

The investigation of Van Gogh's studio practice has produced much new knowledge about suppliers, prices, availability, fabrication methods and the composition of 19th century drawing and painting materials. This knowledge is relevant to 19th century artistic practice in general and contributes to the improved management and conservation of works of this period.