8 Paintings that Vincent Van Gogh Copied

The Post-Impressionist master often painted reproductions of fellow artists' works in his characteristic style.

Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, June 1888, oil / canvas, 64 x 80.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Photo in the public domain (detail)
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, June 1888, oil / canvas, 64 x 80.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Photo in the public domain (detail)

Studying and copying the works of other artists is part of the training of any painter. Even Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), throughout his career, continued this practice, inspired by the artworks of his predecessors and contemporaries from many different regions and artistic movements.

The first copies were made after van Gogh moved to Paris to live with his brother Theo (1857-1891) in 1886. Vincent quickly became part of the avant-garde art scene and passed these contacts on to Theo, who worked as an art dealer. 

Related: 8 Patrons of the Parisian Avant-garde 

Left: Keisai Eisen, A Courtesan, 1808, woodcut. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Courtesan, 1887, oil on canvas, 100.7 x 60.7 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain
Left: Keisai Eisen, A Courtesan, 1808, woodcut. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Courtesan, 1887, oil on canvas, 100.7 x 60.7 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain

In Paris at that time, Japonism was in vogue and van Gogh started collecting Japanese woodblock prints. Based on templates by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), he created the paintings Flowering Plum Tree and Bridge in the Rain. On the cover of Paris Illustré magazine from May 1886, he also discovered the woodcut A Courtesan by ukiyo-e artist Keisai Eisen (1790-1848), which he copied with a painting. However, he changed the posture of the sitter and chose a pond with water lilies and bamboo as the background instead of a Japanese room.

Related: 10 Artists Between Genius and Madness

Émile Bernand (1868-1941) was one of the young artists van Gogh met in Paris. Bernard's style of black contour outlines, from which cloisonnism and synthetism were to develop, greatly influenced van Gogh. Bernard was also one of the colleagues with whom he exchanged paintings. 

Left: Émile Bernard, Breton women in the meadow, August 1888, oil on canvas. 74 x 93 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Breton Women and Children, Arles, November 1888, watercolor, 60 x 73.7 cm, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan. Photos in the public domain
Left: Émile Bernard, Breton women in the meadow, August 1888, oil on canvas. 74 x 93 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Breton Women and Children, Arles, November 1888, watercolor, 60 x 73.7 cm, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan. Photos in the public domain

In February 1888, Vincent van Gogh traveled to the south of France, where he fell in love with Arles and dreamed of founding an artist community there. Bernard sent van Gogh the painting Breton Women in the Meadow, which he had painted in August 1888. In November van Gogh made a watercolor copy of it entitled Breton Women and Children.

Related: 8 Artists Inspired by the South of the France

Left: Jean-François Millet, The Sower, 1850, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 82.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, October 1889, oil / canvas, 80 x 64 cm, private collection. Photos in the public domain
Left: Jean-François Millet, The Sower, 1850, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 82.6 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, October 1889, oil / canvas, 80 x 64 cm, private collection. Photos in the public domain

During an argument with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), who was the only one of his Paris colleagues to follow him to Arles, van Gogh cut off part of his ear in January 1889 and suffered a nervous breakdown. He was institutionalized at the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, not far from Arles. However, this time led to prolific creativity, including the painting of his most famous work Starry Night.

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Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, June 1888, oil / canvas, 64 x 80.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Photo in the public domain
Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, Arles, June 1888, oil / canvas, 64 x 80.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Photo in the public domain

The limited radius in which van Gogh was allowed to move, however, led to boredom and for a change he resorted to copying works by other artists whom he admired and who inspired him. Given his location in the countryside, Van Gogh sought the people and landscapes around him. One of his great models was the realistic painter Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), one of the earliest artists of the Barbizon School. In September 1889 he began to make paintings based on wood engravings by Millet showing farmers at work. A total of 21 works after Millet were created.

Above left: Jean-François Millet, The Diggers, 1850/55. Above right: Vincent van Gogh, Two farmers digging up, Saint-Rémy, October 1889, oil / canvas, 72 x 92 cm, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Below: Vincent van Gogh, The Diggers, 1880, drawing. Photos in the public domain
Above left: Jean-François Millet, The Diggers, 1850/55. Above right: Vincent van Gogh, Two farmers digging up, Saint-Rémy, October 1889, oil / canvas, 72 x 92 cm, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Below: Vincent van Gogh, The Diggers, 1880, drawing. Photos in the public domain

Van Gogh was most impressed by the motif of the sower, which he had previously used in paintings. Millet's painting The Diggers from 1850-55, van Gogh copied with Two farmers digging in October 1889, served as a template for his earlier drawing in 1880.

Related: The First Known Artworks of 10 Famous Artists

Left: Eugène Delacroix, Pièta, around 1850, oil / canvas, 35.0 x 27.0 cm, National Gallery, Oslo. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Pièta, 1889, oil / canvas, 73 x 60 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain
Left: Eugène Delacroix, Pièta, around 1850, oil / canvas, 35.0 x 27.0 cm, National Gallery, Oslo. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Pièta, 1889, oil / canvas, 73 x 60 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain

Although van Gogh was the son of a clergyman, religious motifs did not play a major role in his oeuvre. In Saint-Rémy, however, he copied some religious works by two artists who had inspired him: Eugène Delacroix's (1798-1863) Pièta encouraged van Gogh to use more color, and he had admired Rembrandt's (1606-1669) use of light during his time in Amsterdam in the 1870s.

Left: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Raising of Lazarus, 1630/32, oil / oak, 96.4 x 81.3 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Raising of Lazarus, May 1890, oil / Canvas, 35.5 x 49.5 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain
Left: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Raising of Lazarus, 1630/32, oil / oak, 96.4 x 81.3 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Raising of Lazarus, May 1890, oil / Canvas, 35.5 x 49.5 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photos in the public domain

Inspired by Delacroix he painted Pièta and The Good Samaritan, after various works by Rembrandt he created Half-figure of an angel and The Raising of Lazarus. It is noticeable that the Christ of the Pieta and the figure of Lazarus with his red hair seem to resemble Van Gogh.

Left: Gustave Doré, Newgate Exercise yard, from "London: A pilgrimage", 1872, wood engraving. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Round of Prisoners, 1890, oil / canvas, 80 x 64 cm, Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Photos in the public domain
Left: Gustave Doré, Newgate Exercise yard, from "London: A pilgrimage", 1872, wood engraving. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Round of Prisoners, 1890, oil / canvas, 80 x 64 cm, Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Photos in the public domain

How restricted van Gogh felt in the mental hospital is most clearly expressed in The Round of the Prisoners, painted in early 1890, based on a wood engraving by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) from the book London: A Pilgrimage published in 1872.

Related: The Secrets of Van Gogh's Final Painting Revealed

Van Gogh's last copy of an artwork was made in July 1890, shortly before his death. Beginning in mid-May he lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, northwest of Paris, where the doctor and art collector Paul Gachet (1828-1909) was supposed to keep an eye on his health.

Left: Jacob Jordaens, study with five cows, 1620, oil / canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Cows, Auvers, July 1890, oil / canvas, 55 x 65 cm, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Photos in the public domain
Left: Jacob Jordaens, study with five cows, 1620, oil / canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Right: Vincent van Gogh, Cows, Auvers, July 1890, oil / canvas, 55 x 65 cm, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Photos in the public domain

This painting was a copy of an oil study with five cows by the Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) from 1620, of which Dr. Gachet owned a drawing.

In Vincent van Gogh's oeuvre of almost 2,000 paintings and drawings, the copies he made provide an interesting insight into the artist's inspirations and interests.

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