Sunbathing in Arles

If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance.
– Van Gogh

• Van Gogh’s L’Arlésienne is a portrait of Madame Ginoux, the proprietress of the cafe where he lived for a time in Arles. But the real subject of the painting is the lemon yellow background, a color that weaves into Van Gogh’s sunflowers and wheat fields. The daring combination of yellow and Prussian blue was inspired by Delacroix as a challenge to the subtle Dutch palette.

• Fong Qi Wei’s Sunflower is part of his Exploded Flowers series of photographs that deconstruct blooms into their individual components.

• This Mosaic Glass Inlay dates back to the late Hellenistic period and depicts a pattern of yellow lilies beneath two thousand years worth of cracks and chips.

• Krasimira Milenkova’s Silk Scarf is hand painted with yellow flowers on a dark green background.

• Jan and Catherine’s Espresso Cup Set includes two cups and saucers glazed in golden tones that resemble Van Gogh’s wheat fields.

• Michele Soares’ Bracelet is made of braided yellow and silver yarn.

• Reiko Miyagi’s Earrings suspend two enameled leaves from vine-like wires.

• WSM’s Scarf is made of silk shirred in a cascade of yellow, brown, and green.

• Karla Wheeler’s Ring is made of deep emerald resin sculpted into geometric planes.

• This Ring by Small Joys Studio has a rotating flower made of copper enameled in shades of dark green and purple.

• Cinne Worthington’s Silk Scarf has a dense pattern of golden flowers framed by a dijon-colored trim.


• Dürer and Van Gogh’s Irises look nothing alike. They don’t look like irises either. Dürer painted his petals like thick folds of satin that ripple in perfect harmony. Up close, Van Gogh’s irises resemble crushed pieces of paper, dissolving the shape of the iris into conflicting brushstrokes. Despite chaos in the details, the composition balances. Both artists studied their botanical specimens closely, dissecting natural forms into textures.

• This Silk Scarf by Beta Accessories has loose washes of light blue and white in the form of an iris.

• Alp’s Porcelain Mug is covered by a crystalline glaze that contrasts vibrant blue with crackling gold.

• Whitney’s Blue Bowls nest inside one another to form a perfect lotus.

• Lindsay’s Serving Bowls create a striking contrast between a white exterior and glossy Cobalt inside.

• Hoshika made her Iris Necklace by laser cutting the stylized silhouette in sterling silver.

Reaped When Ripe

Aren’t we, who live on bread, to a considerable extent like wheat, at least aren’t we forced to submit to growing like a plant without the power to move, by which I mean in whatever way our imagination impels us, and to being reaped when we are ripe, like the same wheat?
– Vincent van Gogh, 1889

• Van Gogh found reassurance and calm in fields of wheat. In his letters to his brother Theo, he often remarked that he could completely immerse himself in the landscape of Arles. The unassuming wheat fields and laborers were a perfect complement to his violent brushstrokes. He saw this landscape as a direct reflection of life as a cyclical process: birth, death, struggle, harvest.

• The Alexander McQueen Spring 2011 Collection included several pieces made entirely from wheat. They create a striking contrast between such an organic, unpretentious material and precise, ordered stitching. Just as Van Gogh re-imagined the idea and movement of wheat in brushstrokes, these pieces bring fresh perspective to the context of high fashion and tailoring.

• Deb’s Wheat Wave Cuff creates a rich, textured surface of beads inspired by the movement of wheat on a windy day.

• Bethany’s Hops, Barley, and Wheat Neckties have an incredibly intricate pattern of the grains in mustard yellow.

• J.P Canlis’ Wheat Installations capture the calmness of wheat fields in a much more linear way with hundreds of illuminated glass stalks.

 I saw in this reaper – this vague figure struggling like the devil in the midst of the heat to reach the end of his task – I saw in him the image of death, in the sense that mankind could be seen as the wheat he is reaping. It is – if you like – the opposite of the sower that I tried before. But in this death there’s nothing sad; it happens in broad daylight with the sun flooding everything with a fine, gold light…it’s an image of death as recounted in the great book of nature – but what I was seeking was an “almost smiling” quality. Van Gogh on Wheat Field with Reaper (pictured), written on September 5, 1889

• Chris Chaney’s Stoneware Mug is subtle and rustic with an uneven surface caused by the soda firing process.

• Inga’s Weaving Wheat Linen has a herringbone pattern that makes the fabric look like shimmering fields of wheat.

Symphony in Blue and Yellow

• Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
Fashion by Rodarte Spring/Summer 2012
Cotton Scarf “Atitlan Sunflowers” by Francisco Diaz
Earrings by Whimsy and Magic

There were stars in his sunflowers and sunflowers in his stars. The streak of blue that separates background and table, and marks Van Gogh’s signature, in Sunflowers fills The Starry Night. While he was painting Sunflowers, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo about plans to create a series that “will be a symphony in blue and yellow.”

• Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889
Fashion by Rodarte Spring/Summer 2012
Cuff by Rose Waterrose
Ring by Austin Moore

Van Gogh broke all the rules of color and brushwork. He painted sunflowers against a bright yellow background, and depicted contrast in the texture of paint rather than choice of color. The variety of brushstrokes in all of his paintings produced a surface that appears to move in a constant state of turmoil. Sunflowers droop and raise their heads in an ebb and flow similar to the night sky.

Watch a documentary about Sunflowers

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Lautrec’s posters appeared in the streets, periodicals, and hands of private collectors, as French city life sought to satisfy its craving for entertainment and excitement. His Moulin Rouge – La Goulue advertises the popular dance hall and cabaret, which was constantly pushing the envelope for risqué behavior. There were no formalities or established rules of etiquette, as people could pass through at their leisure and enjoy all of the food and drink available. The dancer featured in the poster, La Goulue, was the most scandalous performer at the time, and her presence marks the first time a celebrity was used in an advertisement for promoting an entertainment spot. These large posters were displayed outside, and the tax stamp that was needed to authorize their existence proves that the business of advertising was competitive and encouraged visual originality.

Lautrec was one of the first artists to explore the visual possibilities of printmaking, and he gave his posters a style that was free from the restrictions of representation found in other areas of art. He used the commercial aspect of advertising to his advantage to produce works that would capture the attention of the ordinary passerby. An interesting and unexpected combination of colors and forms was enough to signify success, and this notion was certainly supported by the business that developed around these posters. Confetti is one of Lautrec’s most creative works, and, unlike the Moulin Rouge where he writes his full signature, it features the initials HTL as one mark, no doubt influenced by the seals found on Japanese woodblock prints.

Jane Avril was another well-known performer and spectator, and Divan Japonais features her alongside the critic Edouard Dujardin in an Asian-inspired cabaret. In all of his works, Lautrec was influenced by the flat space and compositions of Japanese woodblock prints, and here he includes Dujardin as a writer who commented on Japanese art. In fact, many famous painters, writers, and thinkers of the time were mingling in these cafe-concert settings.

Le Deuxième Volume de Bruant features the prominent singer and nightclub owner Aristide Bruant. Evidently, he was such a distinct persona that a simple back view was enough for people to recognize him. He made a successful business out of bringing the latest and most provocative street culture to his club, and appealing to every kind of taste. Among other amusing customs, he was joined by a chorus to welcome every woman into his club with “O, how pale she is.”

Seeds of Scarlet

The pomegranate has a certain elusive allure, whether it’s the deep-red color or maze-like interior, and it has found its way into works of art throughout the centuries. Perhaps one of the earliest is Lorenzo di Credi’s Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate, and, like in many Renaissance works, it’s safe to say that the seemingly insignificant objects will have a symbolic meaning, as the pomegranate represents resurrection in this instance. The painting was done in the style of Verrocchio, the then-deceased teacher of Credi, with an attempt to draw inspiration from da Vinci, a fellow student who, comparatively, has a more subtle sense of color and realism.

Jan de Heem’s still-life is very much part of the age of northern European still-life painting, and the pomegranate here is given an unreachable level of lusciousness, as it is depicted meticulously among an equally vivid bouquet. At first glance, it might seem ready to eat, but such perfect paintings have a sense of theatricality about them, as if to remind us of the illusion of such luxury.

Courbet’s Still Life with Apples and Pomegranate seems too meek for an artist of his perspective, but the loose, mesmerizing brushstrokes give the painting Courbet’s signature effect. Chardin, on the other hand, depicts the pomegranate half open, and he shows his skill in portraying almost a reverence for the fruit.

Cezanne is on another level of perception, of course, as he is not concerned with the sensual qualities of pomegranate, but rather evokes something that goes far beyond the physical or familiar. That being said, nothing compares with a eating bowl of pomegranate seeds, and here is the easiest way to deal with such a complicated fruit: submerge it in a bowl of water, separate seeds from flesh, and all of the seeds will sink to the bottom.

See also:

Secret Underwater Pomegranate Trick

Two Luscious Recipes with Intoxicating Pomegranate Glaze!

Bulgur, Celery and Pomegranate Salad Recipe

Recipes With Pomegranate Punch

Pomegranate-glazed salmon with baby arugula salad

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night

 During nightly walks along the promenade, I often wondered who should have painted the scene: long streams of twinkling light reflected in the slight waves of the Hudson, occasional ferries, and the distant shoreline of Staten Island. Monet would have done a decent job, but he would have insisted to paint in daylight. Turner would have been bored unless one of the ferries was burning. No, Van Gogh was the only one who could truly understand the atmosphere necessary, but I came to that conclusion only after seeing the “Colors of the Night” show at the MoMa.

I had always been somewhat skeptical about whether Van Gogh deserved his fame, so I came to the exhibit with the intention of seeing the paintings as if I had never seen them before. As with any famous painter, the danger is that their reputation will overshadow their work. In the first two rooms, I was hoping that there would be something more than the dismal landscapes that he produced in the beginning of his career. Indeed, I thought Van Gogh would have been horrified to find them there himself, because he only considered his latest works to be acceptable enough for exhibition. Nevertheless, they provided a valuable contrast with later paintings that are the most characteristic of his known style. The only painting that I found interesting was The Cottage, because it is the first one where he plays with a perspective that gives the scene an emotional charge, one which he develops subsequently, if not quite in the same way.

When I saw The Sower, I realized that the reason why Van Gogh is so celebrated is because he painted in an utterly unique way, and I don’t think there has ever been another artist that has recaptured the same spirit in their art as he did. It is too simple to base artistic merit in originality, but Van Gogh established a powerful connection between his technique and his subject. The Sower, to me, was a canvas for trying out new visual ideas. He grew frustrated as he added more color contrasts, suggesting that although he was just starting to carry out a new technique, he wasn’t sure of its scope or potential.

Van Gogh certainly did not paint in one particular way in all his other work, but The Starry Night over the Rhone seems to me the climax of his ability and impact. It is a complete work, confident in its own subtle brilliance. Reproductions don’t do it any justice because he does the impossible: he captures the essence of the constantly changing light on the water with brushtrokes. The light is not constrained by the edges of the canvas or the viewer’s perception. It continues to flicker even though the layers of paint are unmoving. The painting transcends its technique yet evokes its indescribable meaning because of it.

I found the ink paintings to be fascinating, because they provided some sense of how Van Gogh was thinking about line quality. The letters were somewhat useless, though, because they only showed that he had average handwriting and that he had the habit of including sketches. The exhibit itself was well-done overall, as it gave insight into the process that was going on in Van Gogh’s mind, even if that was only my perception of it.

Van Gogh inspired dress by Max Azaria • Vincent’s lady


in the water bucket
a melon and an eggplant
nodding to each other

— Yosa Buson

It is odd to think that a simple vegetable can be thought of as universal, ubiquitous, romantic, whimsical, socially important, dramatic, abstract, and fashionable at the same time. Artists, ranging from Vincent Van Gogh to a modern Japanese illustrator named Ryoono, have been inspired by the shapes, textures, forms, and colors, of these veggies.

Camille Pissarro, in his Vegetable Garden at the Hermitage near Pontoise, seeks to create a serene and harmonious atmosphere, associated with the seemingly idyllic image of peasant life. The warm yellow hues with touches of green, as well as the small and unobtrusive figure, enhance the idea that a vegetable garden signifies a simple and honest connection with the earth.

The luscious fruit and veggie paintings of 17th and 18th century Northern Europe, such as A Still Life with Fruit, Fish Game and a Goldfish Bowl reveal not only the realism and precision with which they could be depicted, but the grand qualities they were given. The dramatic lighting, immaculate execution, and majestic presentation of these banquet scenes reflects their importance as signs of wealth and prosperity, a quality much sought after in those times. Putting a slightly different spin on that approach, Still Life: Balsam Apple and Vegetables by James Peale, resembles the characteristics of Spanish still lives, where every lettuce crease and squash texture conveys a dark and otherworldly meaning.

Van Gogh, on the other hand, uses his characteristic dashes to juxtapose orange and green tones to both contrast and enhance the entire image. Unlike Pissarro, he produces a more abstract portrait that envisions the vegetable garden in terms of color and shape rather than concept.

Japanese artist Ryoono continues in this abstract vein, focusing solely on the graphic form qualities of the veggie. If you’ve ever seen the striking lightning designs on a shiny organic eggplant, or the uninhibited green strokes on a yellow tomato, you know that this is entirely possible. Ryoono’s sprawling designs are all done by hand, and all feature the distinct yet free-flowing design elements that veggies are capable of inspiring. The stylish fashions intended as an ad campaign for a Brazilian supermarket also attest to the versatility of the veggie form.

Vegetable Garden at the Hermitage near Pontoise by Camille Pissarro • Vegetable Nirvana by Ito Jakuchu • Vegetable Garden in Montmartre by Vincent Van Gogh

A Still Life With Fruit, Fish Game And A Goldfish Bowl by Lucas Victor Schaefels • Still Life: Balsam Apple and Vegetables by James Peale

We must not forget the lighter side of the veggie, the one which may occur after consuming a euphoric cherry tomato or ripe melon. Giuseppe Arcimboldi produced many paintings which put together smiling human forms solely by using veggies, and I bet that you yourself did not at first notice the Vegetable Gardener hiding behind his onion cheeks and leafy beard, slyly smiling from under his black bucket hat. Perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of veggie whimsy is Ito Jakuchu’s Vegetable Nirvana, in which the dying Buddha is depicted as a dying white radish, surrounded by his veggie mourners such as tomato, eggplant, mushroom, and carrot. Whether this is a mockery of the traditional Buddhist scene, a serious contemplation about the philosophical meaning of veggies, or simply a playful diversion, it tops off the age-old exploration of the meaning of the veggie.

For me, however, it can be defined as the fresh smell on my fingers after picking tomatoes from a vine.

The Vegetable Gardener by Giuseppe Arcimboldi

Ad Campaign: Pão de Açúcar • Artwork by RYOONO

Sub Rosa

When Picasso was 24 years old, he painted Garçon à la pipe, (detail shown) quite an ambiguous painting that became part of his Rose Period, during which his relationships and experiences in Paris prompted him to use warmer reds, oranges, and pinks. His delicate and somewhat unreadable expression stands out from the messy brushstrokes of the rose bouquets around him. Judge for yourself if it is worth the $104 million it sold in auction.

Since antiquity, the term “Sub Rosa” has been associated with keeping things secret. During long banquets in ancient Rome, when the wine and conversation were flowing, painted roses on the ceiling reminded guests that wild rumors and threads of conversation should only survive the night.

Wild rose scarf • Rose petal jam

Buy: • make it yourself:

Dried Roses TankGarçon à la Pipe (Boy with a Pipe) by Pablo Picasso

Rose photos from The Huntington Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Botanic Garden