Lesson by Van Gogh Museum
This lesson contains 35 slides, with text slides.
General learning objectives
- The students will learn about the work of Vincent van Gogh.
- The students will learn about colour as an element of art.
- The students will learn to recognise the terms colour type, saturation, brightness and contrast and apply them to their own art works and other people's.
1. For this lesson, students will need their mobile phones. Alternatively, you can do the lesson without mobiles if not every student has one.
2. For the two sketching assignments, the students will need paper and pencils.
1. The sketching assignments can be extended by having the students paint, rather than draw. Keep in mind that at least 120 minutes of class time will then be required.
2. The sketching assignments can also be adapted into Photoshop or collage assignments. In that case, the students can take and possibly edit photographs, or search for images and combine them into collages.
3. The lesson can be shortened by doing only the exercises, or by doing just the informative part of the lesson and leaving out the exercises.
This lesson is about colour as an element of art: more specifically, how colour is used in painting. It focuses on the work of Vincent van Gogh.
Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, 1890.
Explain the term colour type. Click on the hotspot for a list of the three colour types.
- Shoes, 1886
Tell the class: It's sometimes said that Vincent hardly used any colour in The Potato Eaters. If you look closely, you can see that's not true. He used a variety of colours: red, blue, yellow, green, etc.
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The Bedroom, 1888.
Tell the class: The Bedroom has changed colours over the years. As the red pigment has faded, the lavender colour has changed to blue. Bedroom B is a reconstruction. We do not know for certain whether The Bedroom really looked like that 130 years ago.
Tell the class: This painting shows the garden of the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, where Vincent spent a year for treatment.
Garden of the Asylum, 1889.
Tell the class: Vincent could use colours to express feelings. He increased the emotional power of his works by combining colours.
Click on the hotspot for Vincent's ideas about the use of colour in this painting, from a letter to his friend Emile Bernard (letter 822).
Ask the class: In which painting did Vincent mainly use pure colours, and in which one did he use impure colours?
Sketch a city scene with
- one primary colour
- and two unsaturated colours.
Tip: save your sketch; you'll need it later.
Have the students sketch for five minutes and then discuss the assignment. Click the timer to start it.
Explain the term colour contrast or click on the hotspot with the hat for an explanation.
Click on the hotspot with the speech balloon to read what Vincent wrote about complementary colours. The quote is from a letter to his sister Willemien (letter 626).
Self-Portrait as a Painter 1887-1888
Landscape at Twilight, 1890.
Ask the class: Do you know the term for this type of colour contrast? The hotspot explains the term warm-cold contrast. In this painting, Vincent also used a quality contrast.
Tell the class: Vincent painted this still life in the hospital in Saint-Rémy. The irises were originally purple, but the red pigment has faded, leaving the flowers blue. So originally this was also a complementary colour contrast.
Click on the hotspot to find out what Vincent wrote about the complementary colour contrast in Irises (from letter 870 to his brother Theo, 1890)..
Ask the class: In which painting did Vincent use a colour-against-colour contrast, and in which one did he use a quality contrast? Click on the hotspots for the answers.
Continue working on your city scene, and add
- a warm-cold contrast
- and a complementary colour contrast.
Give the students five minutes to sketch. Then discuss the results.
Click on the hotspot for a Vincent van Gogh quote about using colour (from a letter to his brother Theo, 20 October 1885).
Click on the hotspots for the answer. These paintings are entitled The Harvest (1888) and The Sower (1888).
Using these examples, discuss what exactly makes the use of colour natural or unnatural.
- Look for an example of the symbolic use of colour in everyday life.
- On your mobile, look for an art work that uses colour in a symbolic way.
Tell the class: Colour is used not only naturally and unnaturally, but also in symbolic ways. In other words, a colour can have a meaning in a specific context. For example, red can stand for love or danger. In Vincent's case, there are no clear examples of the symbolic use of colour, in which one colour stands for one particular meaning. But there have been plenty of examples of this in art history.
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If you wish, you can go through the summary of the terms discussed.
The next few slides are exercises on using these terms in practice.
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Tell the class: As mentioned earlier, Vincent's work can also suggest feelings. Many people have strong feelings when they look at Wheatfield with Crows (1890), for example.
Finish the lesson by discussing the assignment with the students.