I recently painted Van Gogh’s Landscape with Snow for my daughter’s birthday. There were three reasons I chose this painting to copy: I love Van Gogh, I spent three years living in a snowy landscape similar to this (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and I wanted to paint my daughter, Madison, and her beloved dog Penelope (P) in a painting. Imagine the serendipity of my surprise when I read this headline a week later “The White House asked to borrow Van Gogh’s Landscape with Snow from the Guggenheim.” ( I am interested to know why President Trump is drawn to this painting.)
Landscape with Snow is one of the first paintings that Van Gogh made in Arles (1888). These are the La Crau plains in France which border Montmajour. According to the National Gallery of Art in D.C., “ Van Gogh found a brilliance and light (in Arles) that would wash out details and simplify forms, reducing the world around him to the sort of pattern he admired in Japanese woodblocks where the effect of the sun would strengthen the outlines of composition and reduce nuances of color to a few vivid contrasts.”
This was my first painting on a canvas! Marie, my art instructor, said it was time. How fun. I was also very excited about using the painting techniques of Van Gogh such as impasto, or putting a thick application of paint on canvas, and also in using a palette knife for the bold strokes to add a feeling of movement to the painting.
One of the first things that struck me about this painting is the menagerie of colors that Van Gogh used. Typically, in a snow scene, one would see a palette of blue, white, yellow, and brown. This painting has the whole spectrum of color. My palette was completely full of mixed colors in an attempt to match Van Gogh’s palette:
- Zinc white and violet for the mountains, snow and clouds, with highlights of cadium yellow;
- Cobalt blue, Viridian green mixed with Zinc white and vermillion red to make gray for the puddles and slush left by the melting snow;
- Cerulean blue, gray and white for the sky;
- Naples yellow, Chrome orange and Viridean green for the tufts of grass;
- Vermillion red for the roofs and when mixed with Cadium yellow, Madison’s blond/brown hair and her matching puppy dog P’s fluffy coat. As typical of Dutch landscapes, the darker colors are emphasized in the foreground with deep blue skies in the background. Notice the absence of black which was banned by the Impressionist painters.
(I use the nom de plume “Jules Claire” in my art)
One of the challenges when sketching this painting onto canvas is the contrasting horizontal line with the diagonal lines of the road cutting across the plain. It was important for me to keep these two perspectives distinct when adding in the puddles and grass; diagonal lines on the road and horizontal lines in the fields. This perspective also allows the idea that we are walking up the road with Van Gogh behind Madison and P on a brisk wintry day in France. What a lovely idea!
I thoroughly enjoyed copying this painting; the freedom of movement, the mixing of colors, and recreating the pleasure of walking through snow laden fields in the cool winter air.
Happy Birthday little Mat! I love you
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)