Phillips-at-Home Series: Changing Seasons with Van Gogh

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

As we say farewell to summer and welcome the yellow leaves of autumn, we’re excited to explore the world of colors and its connection to our emotions.

For this activity, we’re taking elements of Vincent van Gogh’s creative process in his works The Road Menders (from the Phillips’s permanent collection) and The Large Plane Trees (part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent collection) by guiding you through a series of thinking moments as you create two of your own van Gogh-inspired paintings. These paintings were the focal point of an exhibition at the Phillips, Van Gogh Repetitions, in 2013.

About the Artist
Vincent van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. The son of a pastor, van Gogh pursued a religious life as a preacher before deciding to devote his life to painting. He was influenced by the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Japanese prints, which were very popular at the time. In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris to join his brother Theo, where he was introduced to the Impressionist style of painting. Two years after arriving in Paris, van Gogh moved to the south of France in the town of Arles. Throughout his life, van Gogh struggled with his mental health and spent many years in and out of asylums.

Look Closely:
Both The Road Menders and The Large Plane Trees appear to be of the same street scene. As a result of x-ray technology, it was discovered that The Large Plane Trees was painted before The Road Menders. It’s believed that van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees outside and very quickly before painting The Road Menders indoors. Since he couldn’t afford canvas at the time, van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees on a piece of cloth fabric. He wrote to his brother Theo telling him of the beautiful scene and how he needed canvas to paint it. Theo sent him canvas, which he then used to paint The Road Menders.

Thinking Moment
Take a few moments to examine each painting. As seasons change, so do the colors we see in nature. Compare and contrast as you think about these questions:

  • What’s different? What’s similar?
  • What season do you think each painting takes place in? What do you see that makes you think that?
  • How do these paintings make you feel? How do you think van Gogh felt when he was painting these works?

Art Project
Age suggestions: Suitable for all ages

Time Estimate: 15 minutes prep time
Total paint time varies by individual preference
(2-4 hours estimate)

What you’ll need:
Painting Palette (paper plates will work too)
Flat surface or clip board
Pencil
Apron (or clothes you feel comfortable getting paint on)
Cup
Water
Napkins
2 Sheets of plain paper
Paint (we used tempera, but any will do)
Paintbrushes

“Gogh” outside and get inspired!

For this art project you will create two paintings. Like van Gogh, head outside to paint your first work, then head back inside to paint your second. Here is an actual photo of the scene where van Gogh painted The Large Plane Trees.

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The Boulevard Mirabeau, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence © Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Steps for Painting

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Step 1

Step 1: Gather your materials. You will be taking these outside, so make sure you also have a bag or box to place your materials in.

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Step 2

Step 2: Pick a location where you are going to paint. We chose Dupont Circle in DC.

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Step 3

Step 3: Head to your location and set up your materials. As you can see here, we found a n outdoor chess table to use.

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Step 4

Step 4: Sketch an outline of your scene using a pencil. Here, the clipboard was very handy!

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Step 5

Step 5: Paint your outdoor scene over your sketch.

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Step 6

Step 6: Let your beautiful masterpiece dry!

Step 7: When you’re finished, pack up your materials and head back inside to begin your second painting.

Van Gogh is often thought to have worked quickly, working with speed. However, he also often painted carefully and deliberately, painting the same scene repeatedly, rethinking and revising figural placement and color. In his second painting The Road Menders, he’s not depicting the exact colors he sees in nature. It’s possible his color palette instead reflected his feelings and emotions.

Thinking Moment
As you begin your second painting, think about the colors you’re using.

  • What emotions do you want to convey?
  • Are your color choices vibrant, cool, warm, muted, etc.?
  • Are your colors a good match with the emotions you want to convey?

Steps for Painting 2

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Step 1

Step 1: Choose your colors. For our second painting, we chose a warmer palette, using mostly yellow, red, orange, and pink. We wanted to express a warm, happy feeling which we felt these colors did well. What do you think?

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Step 2

Step 2: Replicate the scene from your first painting by drawing a light outline with a pencil to a new sheet of paper.

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Step 3

Step 3: Start painting with your new color palette!

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Step 4

Step 4: When you’re finished, clean up your materials while your painting is drying. Now that you’re done, set both of your works side-by-side.

Ta-da!

Reflection
Take a moment to admire and be proud of what you’ve created! Wrapping up this activity, ask yourself these final questions (remember, there are no right or wrong answers):

  1. When you compare your paintings, what’s different; what’s similar?
  2. Do your paintings and their colors resemble certain seasons? If so, which season and why?
  3. How do you feel about one painting versus the other? Do you see different emotions?

Share your work with the Phillips, we’d love to see your project! Take a picture of your paintings together and send us a comment below. Check back soon for the next project of the Phillips-At-Home Series. See you next time!

Marin Williams and Betty Q. Le, K12 Education Interns

Dispatches: Inspired Artworks in Mostar

Phillips Educators Rachel Goldberg and Andrea Kim Neighbors are in Bosnia facilitating workshops on Prism.K12 and Jacob Lawrence with students, emerging artists, and teachers.

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Artists, friends, and family gather at an exhibition of work inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series in Mostar.

What a week! We have had a wonderful time here in Mostar working with emerging artists, elementary students, high school students, orphans, and teachers. Last night at our home base in Mostar, OKC Abrašević, we had an exhibition of artwork created during this week’s numerous workshops. Many of the artists we worked with attended, bringing their friends and families. It was great to see so many people view these artworks, expressing personal and community stories inspired by The Migration Series. I can’t help but wonder what Jacob Lawrence would think. Today we leave Mostar and head to Trebinje. More to come!

Andrea Kim Neighbors, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs

The Phillips and Jacob Lawrence in Bosnia

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Educator Rachel Goldberg’s desk as she packs for a trip to Bosnia.

We’re excited to share that Rachel Goldberg, Head of K-12 Initiatives and Andrea Kim Neighbors, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs are leaving on a two-week artful adventure to Bosnia. In Sarajevo, Mostar, and Trebinje, we will be facilitating workshops on Prism.K12 and Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. We invite you to follow our adventures working with young students, teachers, and artists here on the blog and on Twitter @EducatorRachel and @LetsGoToMuseums.

More pictures and stories to come…

Rachel Goldberg, Head of K-12 Initiatives
Andrea Kim Neighbors, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs