Explore the ideas and characteristics of the work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin are among the most well-known and admired artists of all times. Their work significantly amplified Impressionist developments in terms of their use of colour and the search for symbolic depth. This course will introduce you to the art of both painters by tracing the development and stages of their artistic style.

We will explore the ideas they used as stimulus for their paintings, the people who influenced their style and the places which were sources of inspiration.

Course outline

The work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin drew on developments and achievements by Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro, but it also significantly amplified Impressionist developments in terms of their use of colour, the search for symbolic depth, and an art that communicated emotions and mood.

The course will introduce the art of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin by tracing the development of artistic style through several stages beginning with Jean-Francoise Millet’s influence on Van Gogh and the ways in which Van Gogh’s palette and range of motif changed after moving to Paris and meeting impressionist and post-impressionist painters. Gauguin was also influenced by folk art.

The exposure to the rural and rustic life in Brittany, an area in the North of France where he spent some time, prompted the use of bold colours and unusual perspective. Van Gogh’s time in Arles, a town in the south of France, was one of the most productive times in his career. Here he planned to form a brotherhood of painters – the Studio of the South”. Van Gogh’s vision of this studio was greatly influenced by his perception of Japan. The impact of Japanese woodblock prints as a source for inspiration will be discussed as well as the ways van Gogh and l Gauguin influenced each other.

Gauguin created some major works during the “Studio of the South” and his decision which would lead him to live and work the South Pacific originated here. After moving to Tahiti in the search for a less artificial life the myths stories life-style and culture of Tahiti was the source for his work. Questions of how he comprehended and interpreted this indigenous culture will be examined. The last two years of Van Gogh’s life were extraordinarily productive. Swirls and spirals characterized the work characteristics of one of his most famous paintings “Starry Night”.

The confusing number of interpretations and explanations of this part of Van Gogh’s work will be a further topic of critical discussion.


Learning outcomes

On completion of the course learners will be able to:

  • discuss the oeuvre of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin
  • identify characteristics of French 19th-century art
  • describe the ‘roots’ of modernism and demonstrate an understanding of Art Historical methodologies.

Who should attend?

This course is designed for adult learners who are interested in learning about 19th-century art.