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Van Gogh's "Almond Blossoms with a Book"

For this week’s lesson and the final class of the Winter series, we studied one of my favorite paintings, “Almond Blossoms with a Book”, a lesser-known work by Vincent Van Gogh. It is a delicate still life that offers a glimpse into his life and tells a very personal story.

In 1888 Van Gogh became inspired in southern France and began the most productive period of his painting career. He moved to Provence for the sun and the hopes of starting an artist colony. When Van Gogh arrived in Arles, he wrote to his brother Theo, "The weather here is changeable, often windy with turbulent skies, but the almond trees are beginning to flower everywhere."

“Almond Blossoms with a Book”, is one of several paintings inspired by the blossoming almond trees. They were created during a brief but happy time for him, out of pure joy, to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake, the son of his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo. When he created the Almond Blossom paintings, he wrote to Theo, “Down here it is freezing hard and there is still snow in the countryside, here are two small studies of an almond-tree branch already in flower in spite of it”. The blossoms were some of the first signs of Spring and symbolized rebirth and new life.

The series of paintings contained many elements of the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints that Van Gogh collected and were a major influence on his work. The bright areas of color contrasted to the outlines of the branches, and delicate blossoms are all found in Japanese woodcut prints.

During his time in Arles, he painted 70 paintings in 70 days, with an intensity and exhaustive fervor. It was as if Vincent knew his time was limited. Some of his most famous paintings, Sunflowers and Wheatfields were painted during this time. It would become the last chapter in his life. Van Gogh did not live to see his talent recognized. He only sold one work and was little appreciated except for the support of his brother Theo. In his brief career, his paintings and masterful drawings changed art forever. The intensity of his vision, his wonderful sense of color and the extraordinary boldness of his technique created masterpieces that have had an enduring influence on art history. His popularity is greater now than any other time. I recently attended the amazing Van Gogh Immersive Experience, which is currently on tour in the US and Europe to sold out crowds wanting to experience the world of Van Gogh’s art. Seeing the body of his work up close and on large screens highlighted his immense gift.

* For a more in-depth bio of Vincent Van Gogh refer to the 2019 ALA post


We are experiencing the end of Winter’s chilly temperatures with a few signs of early Spring blossoms similar to the inspiration behind Van Gogh’s” Almond Blossoms with a Book”.

This beautiful and delicate still life is very misleading in its simplicity. It is actually quite complex and was a very challenging subject, especially in such a short period of time. We broke it down step by step and the classes did wonderfully. It is full of angles, shadows, reflections, the water and the transparency of the glass. All challenging for even the most experienced artist.

The materials they used were large graphite crayons to capture thicker lines in their original drawings, with layers of oil pastels to achieve something close to an oil painting’s color and textures.


 Week One: Cave Paintings

It has been an eventful week in our Art Literacy class. We have been all around the world.  I would like to thank all of my wonderful students for their great efforts. We began with the story of the discovery of the discovery of cave paintings in Lascaux,  France  and also looked at images from  Spain , where the oldest known cave paintings have been found,  in the cave called El Castillo. The prehistoric dots and crimson hand stencils are now the world's oldest known cave art that dates more than 40,800 years old.

© Serene Greene- Art Literacy Academy
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