Understanding van Gogh

Understanding van Gogh Understanding van Gogh

Exclusively for Tauck guests, join our travel partner and American-born French Impressionistic painter Jill Steenhuis for a presentation that provides insights into the life of artist Vincent van Gogh – and how his life and artistic journey have shaped her own.

An Atlanta native, Jill has lived in Aix-en-Provence since 1980, painting in the landscapes of Provence. After graduating from Sweet Briar College with a BFA in studio art, she attended The Leo Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jill was one of the rare artists to have a studio at the Château Noir, where Cézanne had his studio in the late 19th century. Jill has exhibited in solo shows in New York City, Greenwich, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Dallas, and San Francisco, among other major American cities, as well as in Aix-en-Provence and Paris.

Her work is part of the permanent collections of several museums and important private collections in America and in France. Jill appeared on “Good Morning America” and served as the Cézanne specialist for the Smithsonian Institute for the 100th anniversary of the painter’s death; she is the Cezanne and Van Gogh specialist for American museums who visit the south of France. Specializing in oil painting, lithography and watercolor, Jill captures the essence of Provence with her own personal poetry and vibrant energy – “In my painting, the catalyst is nature. Through the act of painting, my soul engages in a dialogue.”



Question and Answers

How did you support yourself in those early years?
My father, who believed in me as an artist, had gone bankrupt in the real estate business in Atlanta during the late 70s. He had been very successful and then with the petrol crisis, followed by the recession, he lost it all, seemingly overnight. He became disillusioned to the business way of making a living. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s was selling art in NY for high prices. He wrote me to say I could stay in France if I could “learn to live modestly and learn to paint extravagantly”. So I walked everywhere, had no phone or other consuming devises, paid my rent $100.00/month, my food and art supplies with a budget of $500.00/month = $6000.00/year from 1980 – 1985. I sold my first painting in 1984, then a few more in 1985, then my painting sales took off. All I had to do was to try to sell enough to get to the sum of $6000.00. Because of my mother’s death, I had a small sum $500.00/month that came from a trust fund she had established for her daughters. But it ran out in 1985.

I’m a 25 year old artist raised in the south as well and have just graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. Sadly art school was not the best experience, but coming from an entire family of artists I am lucky for the support, but intimidated by their success. Now that it’s all over I mentally/physically don’t know where to go from here. I would be so grateful hearing any advice you have for a young artist like me.
My son Sergio Ruffato, graduated from SCAD in 2012, majoring in sculpture. Upon graduating I told him that he needs to develop the discipline to work daily and create a body of work that is uniquely his. For a whole year following SCAD he was on his own to make his own art – to search, to create, to stretch himself, to see if this is truly what he wants to do for the rest of his life. I called it his “grace” year, where we paid for his living expenses so he could devote all of his time to making art. To see how far he has come, take a look at his website: www.sergeruffato.com

I have written several blogs this year on my early years of trying to find my way, if you want to read more, go to: https://www.artinprovence.com/blog/

Once you have a body of work, it is important to get it to the viewer. A good way to begin to get your work out to the public is to show your work to small groups of interested people in informal cocktail party situations. I tried the gallery scene and had an agent for a while in the ‘80s, but I abandoned this route and began selling my work myself, linked with non-profit organizations across America, like CASA, or Research for Juvenile Diabetes Fo., Meals on Wheels, etc, doing a 5 or 6 city tour every 6 months.
Use your imagination as much with selling your work and getting it out there, as you are with creating it. Galleries are not the only way. Use Facebook, Instagram, the internet, travel and go to as many museums and galleries as possible, talk to people in the art world, read the art magazines, communicate regularly with your friends and your parents’ friends, cultivate your contacts. The amount of networking, planning and communicating that must be done as well as the creating part of being an artist is the least understood. If one chooses to live on one’s art without any other income, it can be done, even in difficult economic times as we have now, but one must work all the time – creating during the day and networking in the evening. The networking that gets results is the personal networking. Every person who has shown interest in my work in past 40 years, I have added to my contacts list, especially if they purchased a work. I always have a guest book and I transfer these addresses into my program. Every New Year, I send a new year’s greetings letter to all my contacts, letting them know what I am doing in my artistic journey. It is a good way to keep up with your contacts. I hope this is helpful.

I’d love to visit whenever it is safe to do so again! I studied abroad at IAU in fall 2009 and attended Marchutz for an art class. Do you still visit Marchutz?
Yes, I do. I support the Marchutz School in every way. It is an outstanding art school that teaches one the discipline of working daily and above all, it teach one to see.

SO sorry to hear of BOTH of your parents’ deaths by suicide. Has this also affected your own paintings and perspectives on things??
Yes, I would say it has. And I hope I conveyed in my talk how much it affected in a positive way the choices I made in finding my way in life. Nothing has been taken for granted. Loss is gain. Creating art, not only filled a void that was left in my heart, but it seemed to take me to an intimate spiritual place where I felt and still feel the presence of my mother and father. Look at the light and beauty in Van Gogh’s paintings, in spite of his suffering. If darkness comes to me, I quickly paint light into it and it is healing.

What do you feel is the difference between being an artist working in America to being an artist working in France?
Hum, I’m glad I had some extra time to ponder on this for a while before answering. I find that the way of life in France is simpler. There aren’t as many distractions. I can focus on my work daily and therefore progress in my vision and make painting my habit of being, like breathing. An artist needs to be silent, to be contemplative, to listen, to wait for the gift to come. Working sporadically here and there and being distracted will not do for entering and discovering the unknown. I create in France and I sell in the States. I think it has been very healthy for me as an artist to have the creating and the selling separated geographically. It is 2 different mind sets.

Must we find metaphors to maximize our appreciation of art?
On Van Gogh and metaphor – so it depends on how you want to look at metaphor in relation to Van Gogh’s work or art in general. VG was able to communicate his messages (such as comfort, strength) through his use of formal elements (line, color). In other words, instead of a direct or obvious symbolism (like Christ on the Cross to symbolize redemption, sacrifice, pain), Van Gogh was able to achieve a greater profundity through more vibrant and unique color choices, movement of line and overall composition, which he developed through endless practice… if that makes sense? The answer is found in his letters:

– “…my pictures are after all almost a cry of anguish, although in the rustic sunflower they may symbolize gratitude”

– “to express the love of two lovers by a wedding of complementary colors, their mingling and opposition… to express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a somber background, to express hope by some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance….”

The night cafe in Arles still exists?
Yes, it is in the Kröller-Muller Museum in Otterlo.

If Van Gogh was not “mad”, was he just suffering from severe depression his entire adult life?
VG was suffering from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). Read his letters and you will see that he experienced all kinds of emotions – joy, loneliness, sadness, depression, fear, etc, just like we all do. I would not say he suffered from severe depression, otherwise, I do not know how he could have painted so many masterpieces the last 2 and a half years of his life – almost one per day. To fight off depression or the TLE crises, he worked ardently and this saved him. His letters are as beautiful as his paintings. There is a logic throughout his letters that is the same as mine. What I mean is that these letters are not written by a mad man. Here is an example:

– This is my ambition, which is founded less on anger than on love, founded more on serenity than on passion. It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music…Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty — I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.

There weren’t any other grown men in Arles who were painting paintings day after day and calling themselves an artist at the time VG was there. It was a very humble town of framers, who did not really like outsiders. VG spoke French with an accent and was from Holland. That was enough to think he was odd. The people of Arles would have preferred that he go away. They treated him like a stranger and never made him feel accepted. He had only one friend – Mr. Roulin, the postman.

The Iris paintings are so different and light. What time period in his life were they completed?
Almost all of VG’s paintings were painted in 2 and a half years – 1888-1890. He was 29 when he painted his 1st oil painting and he died 8 years later. His entire painting career was an 8 year period. I find many more of his paintings full of light besides the Irises. What about the sunflowers, the gardens, the portraits, the wheat fields and many others? The darker paintings are dark because he was looking into the sun – painting what is called “contre-jour”. Painting contre-jour simplifies nature. Go out and look at a sunset and see how much more simplified all the elements of nature are at that moment.
“Irises” was painted May, 1889 during Vincent’s first week at the asylum.

Do you teach painting?
Yes, I do. Here is a link to my workshop schedule for 2021 and the description: https://www.artinprovence.com/workshops/

In “Irises”, is the white iris Van Gogh?
There is no indication why VG chose to paint “Irises” during his first week at the asylum. When shipping 11 fresh paintings to his brother Theo, Vincent classified “Irises” as a “study”. It is possible that a white iris was simply there and made for a nice dialogue with all the blue/purple ones.

What is the story about him and Cezanne?
Cezanne and VG never met, but it is said that Cezanne was shown a few paintings at the Art Supply Shop of Mr. Tanguy in Paris in 1886, which is before Van Gogh became the Van Gogh we know today (before his time in Arles and St Remy). Cezanne’s comment was, these must have been done by a madman. Cezanne was 14 years older than VG.

How many versions of starry night did he paint and was that usual or unusual by artists of that time?
Millet did a beautiful Starry Night that VG could have seen. VG painted 2 “Starry Nights” – one in Arles and one at St Remy – the 2 shown in my talk. He painted many nocturnal scenes, including dusk and sunset scenes. The evening and the night were great sources of inspiration for VG. There is a wonderful book, Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night.

– VG wrote, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

How did he finance himself to get all the canvases and paintings, and supplies that he needed?
Theo paid for everything, living expenses and art supplies. Vincent would send his paint order and canvas list to Theo and Theo would have the supplies sent to Arles from Paris. Vincent wanted his brother to know that he was working diligently. He was not just receiving money to slack off. Every painting and drawing Vincent did was for Theo to do with them as he wished. Vincent wrote Theo daily to explain what he had painted and what he was working on as if he was reporting to his boss in a way. Once the paintings were dry Vincent would ship them to Theo, who wrote to his fiancée Jo saying, the paintings are filling up the apartment, they are in the closets, under the beds, behind the cupboards… He said I tried to get a maid but she went running out of the apartment – fearful that she would have to come back and work here with all of these paintings and letters everywhere.
Vincent wrote to Theo that Theo must make everyone aware that his paintings were done by 2 for if it was not for Theo, none of his paintings would be painted.

How many celestial paintings did he paint?
He painted many nocturnal scenes, including dusk and sunset scenes. The evening and the night were great sources of inspiration for VG. There is a wonderful book, Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night.

– VG wrote, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

Vincent Van Gogh was also a replacement child as he was born and named after the death of his stillborn brother Vincent Wilhelm Did this event have any effect and influence Van Gogh’s life and paintings?
Yes, Vincent’s parent’s first child was born on March 30th of 1852. They named their firstborn VVG. Unfortunately, he was stillborn. Exactly a year later on March 30, 1853 a second son was born who lived – Vincent Van Gogh, who was given the very same name and was born on the very same day as his brother. His father was a pastor at a little church in Zundert, where the tombstone of Vincent’s older brother with his own name and birthdate was etched on his dead brother’s headstone. Every week passing the little cemetery on the way to church, Vincent could see and be reminded of his namesake, who did not survive. Early on death became part of his life. He was not an adolescent where he experienced that time period of being “invincible”. He knew death. Death was not foreign to him. He also knew and felt all of this life that he was never as good as the first Vincent in his mother’s eyes.

Could you explain how Van Gogh portrayed other senses in his various paintings? I am especially interested in how he related to the senses of taste and smell; which so adds to the richness of Provence.
Reading his letters you realize how sensitive he was to his senses. He consciously made himself aware of each sense in order for the sensations to ignite the birth of the poetry that he would paint in nature. If he had copied a photograph, the poetry would not be there because his senses would not have been engaged. Painting the lavender in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, the cedar trees in the park of Arles, the lilacs and irises in the garden, the dank stony ancient quarry at St Paul de Mausole were subjects chosen partly for the strong fragrances, which were the catalysts to wake up the inner poetry coming from his soul.

At the Kroller-Müller museum, they have several examples of paintings left within the original frames Van Gogh created for these specific paintings. They indicated that he created unique frames for many of his works, but curators have removed them. Isn’t this compromising the artist’s vision by rejecting his complete portrayal of the subject?
Yes, this is very unfortunate. I cannot understand why a “professional” curator would destruct VG’s work by removing a frame he had purposely put on his painting and in many cases carried the paint brush strokes onto the frame.

In Budapest a number of years ago, there was an outstanding exhibit comparing van Gogh’s paintings as originally done with the paintings as they are now, based upon algorithms using the known half-life of the pigments. The colors were brilliant and vibrant, more like Mexican primary tones than the subtler half tones we have today after the decay period. This is similar to before and after of the Sistine Chapel, or Vermeer’s Girl Reading A Letter in Front of A Window. What can be done to bring his original palette back into view?
I do not have the scientific expertise to answer this question. I am glad we have what we have of Vincent’s work. It has been preserved better than the work of many other artists by the fact that most of his work was in the hands of Theo, then his widow Jo and handed on to their son Vincent. The greatest care and respect for the work was always maintained from the moment Theo received the paintings from his brother to their final destination years later when the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was created. They were never exposed to harsh light or left out in the rain like some of Cezanne’s paintings were. Not all the colors faded with age, but Alizarin Crimson is one that did fade over the years.

What details can you share about your experiences at The Leo Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing and at Chateau Noir? I am a painter and artist interested in specific approaches to technical aspects of painting and drawing that you learned there.
Much of my philosophy in art today came from my year long experience in The Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in 1980/1981. I will be forever grateful for what I learned at the school. It is an outstanding art school that teaches one the discipline of working daily and above all, it teaches one to see. Fortunately, not too many technical tips or processes are taught. When technical ways are brought into art, it can quickly be reduced to a formula or a method. Cezanne said, if you have a formula or a method, your art is dead. What is taught at The Marchutz School is a solid foundation of a way of life, a way of seeing in art, where forever afterwards one can discern what is art or what is not. Once one has done The Marchutz School, one can never do anything else but art. For more information about The Marchutz School go to: http://www.themarchutzschool.com/
I would be happy to answer your questions in depth about the school, please email me at: jill@jillsteenhuis.com

Chateau Noir:
International Artist magazine did a featured article in their Issue #114 April/May 2017, starting on page 58, which is a very well written article on Chateau Noir, entitled, “From America to Provence: In Cezanne’s Footsteps – Jill Steenhuis” There is also a 5 minute video of me painting the Pistachio tree at Chateau Noir on my Website.
Go to: https://www.artinprovence.com/video/
“Discover the Serenity of Chateau Noir”

Miss Steenhuis, Do you have any galleries you that have your art displayed in around the Bay Area? We live in San Jose, California and would love to see your art.
I do not have my work in any galleries in the Bay Area. Most of my work is in Aix or in Atlanta. If you like any piece of art on my website, I can ship it to you directly and you can try it out in your home to decide if you would like to purchase it or not. It will arrive in a frame, which is included in the price. Save the box in case you would want to ship it back to Atlanta.
In April of 2016 I had a wonderful show at Francisca Club in San Francisco on 595 Sutter Street, SF, CA. It was hosted by Lisa Lenzo and her mother Anne Riley. Maybe one day they will invite me back. Thank you for asking.

А в чём выигрыш по сумме, при оформлении онлайн займа без отказа на ту же карточку? Ничего, кроме высокого процента.
Основная рекомендация – получайте займ до 10 000 рублей только на своё банковскую карту и онлайн, это выгодно.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. My darling Jill…..you are totally and awesomely incredible, but then I’ve already told you that🤩
    I was thrilled to catch your Tauck lecture and have watched several of your demos with delight!

    Prayers for your continued joy in all you do!

    Love and hugs, Janice & Kent