From sunflowers to starry nights, Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is one of the most celebrated names in Western art history.
In his lifetime he's thought to have painted 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings – many of which were created in the last two years of his life. With his work hanging in the world's most prestigious museums and galleries, including the National Gallery, the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and the Met, and with his 1888 painting, Verger avec cyprès, going for $117 million at auction in 2022, there’s no denying Van Gogh's lasting impact on the art world.
With the weather so very cold and dark, there’s never been a better time to enjoy his works. Here we’ve rounded up 10 of Van Gogh’s best paintings.
Potato Eaters was Van Gogh’s first major work and it was apparently one of the pieces that he was most proud of, because of its authenticity. His aim was to represent the harsh reality of country life: the peasants are painted in earthy tones with rough faces and bony hands, to illustrate the hard labour they endure every day.
Café Terrace at Night
Despite being painted more than 130 years ago, this café still exists in France and has since been renamed the Café Van Gogh. This artwork marks the first time Van Gogh's famous post-impressionist star-filled sky is seen in one of his pieces, and it’s believed the work was painted on the ground, in person, rather than from memory. While the artwork doesn't bear his signature, it's widely known to be Van Gogh's, as he mentions Café Terrace at Night in a number of his letters.
The Bedroom is a painting of a room in Van Gogh’s Yellow House, in Arles. The artist apparently meticulously arranged the room in his house before starting the work, selecting his own paintings to hang in the space. The wonky wall in the background was a deliberate choice from the artist – in a letter to his brother he explains that the painting the space without shadows so the picture would resemble a Japanese print.
You really don't have to be an art lover to recognise Van Gogh's Sunflowers, undoubtedly some of the most famous flowers of all time. Just three shades of yellow were used to make this painting, a colour chosen by Van Gogh because he associated it with happiness. Originally, the Dutch painter intended to paint the sunflowers as a series of 12, but in the end he completed five. They are on display in galleries around the world, including one painting at The National Gallery, which shifts the most amount of merch for the gallery of any of its paintings.
Van Gogh finished almost 142 pieces during his stay in the Saint Rémy de Provence asylum, where he was a voluntary patient from 1889 to 1890 – and this piece was one of his first. The hospital garden provided much inspiration for the artist during his time there and he held the belief that he could keep himself from going insane by painting. Originally the flowers in this work were painted purple but red pigment fading over time has meant that they have now turned blue.
Wheat Field with Cypresses
This piece was also inspired by the view from his asylum window. Van Gogh was so pleased with the summer landscape, he made two studio renditions: one of the same size – which hangs in The Met, and another smaller replica which he planned to gift it to his mother and sister.
One of the artist’s most famous works, Starry Night, is another depiction of the view from the east-facing window from his room at Saint Rémy de Provence asylum. Notably it’s his only painting created at night from his year-long stay in the hospital, despite writing to his brother Theo about his fascination with painting after hours. This abstract landscape painting was one of the artist's later works, as he killed himself the following year. It’s thought he created about 21 variations in total.
This iconic painting was inspired by the birth of Van Gogh’s nephew, who shared the same name as the artist. Part of a group of paintings from 1888 and 1890, it was a gift for his brother Theo. Blossom branches and shrubs against a vivid blue sky are a popular motif across the artist’s work, but in this instance the flowering buds represent the arrival of baby Vincent Willem.
Starry Night Over the Rhône
Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888) is the sister work of Starry Night (1889). While Starry Night was painted from Van Gogh’s hospital room, this lesser-known midnight depiction was actually painted on the bank of the Rhône river, which was just a short walk from his home in Arles.
Self portrait, 1887
Van Gogh painted more than 36 portraits from 1886 to 1890 and in a letter to his brother, he stated that painting them helped him to improve his creative skills. Completed in Paris in the autumn of 1887, two years before he admitted himself to hospital, this painting is one of his most recognisable self-portraits and the image he apparently felt captured his "true character". It's also worth noting that all his later self-portraits show his head without revealing the ear that he famously mutilated.