Here’s my guide to the most famous Vincent Van Gogh paintings to see at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
If you’re a fan of the Post-Impressionist artist Van Gogh, the Musee d’Orsay is a must visit attraction in Paris. In total, the Orsay museum has 24 Van Gogh paintings. It’s one of the world’s largest collections of his amazing artwork.
The Musee d’Orsay is one of Paris’ true treasures, located on the Left Bank. In 2018, the Orsay was named the “best museum in the world” in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
There’s good reason. The Musée d’Orsay is housed in a beautiful converted Beaux-Arts railway station.
The museum has the world’s largest collection of French paintings from 1848 to 1914, a period when Paris was the undisputed artistic capital of the world. But the most beloved of the Orsay artists is Vincent Van Gogh.
You need to buy tickets in advance to this popular museum. Click here to pre-book tickets. If you’d like a guided tour of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre to learn all about the masterpieces, click here.
A Short Biography of Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionism artist who spend most of his life in France. He failed to sell a single painting in his lifetime.
But Van Gogh was rediscovered posthumously. He’s now considered one of the greatest and most influential painters in art history.
Van Gogh was the stereotypical tortured artist, a brilliant but doomed soul in fragile mental health. In 1888, he sliced off his ear in a fit of rage.
While his artistic ability evolved, his psychological state disintegrated. In 1890, Van Gogh died penniless under suspicious circumstances, most likely by suicide.
Since that fateful day, Van Gogh has cast almost a religious spell on art history and his avid fans.
Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionist work is notable for its swirling line, emotional honesty, and bold vivid color. His radical landscapes were like nothing anyone had painted before. Van Gogh used an impasto technique, with thick layers of paint and pastel.
Van Gogh’s paintings are intense, raw, and exude a sculptural physicality. It’s these hallmarks of his art that make both art neophytes and experts love Van Gogh.
Van Gogh painted peasants, roiling skies, and the colored light of the night sky. Toward the end of his life, his brush moved faster and faster. In the last 70 days of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, Van Gogh created 70 paintings.
Tickets & Tours For The Musee d’Orsay
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Must See Van Gogh Paintings At The Musee d’Orsay
Here are eleven famous Van Gogh paintings you can’t miss at the Musee d’Orsay.
1. Starry Night over the Rhone
Starry Night is one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings at the Orsay. The most famous, and much more intense, iteration of Starry Night is in MoMA in New York. The Orsay owns Starry Night over the Rhone.
In it, a powerful sky sits above a waterscape. The gas lights across the water echo the twinkling stars overhead. Van Gogh loved the night sky, saying “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
Some critics argue that Van Gogh’s turbulent quest for sanity is reflected in the surging splashy lines. Others view it as a reflection of the artist’s acceptance and possibly hope, a rare moment of tranquility.
2. Self Portrait
Van Gogh painted over 43 self portraits. Like Rembrandt before him, it was practically a subspecialty.
Van Gogh used portrait painting as a method of introspection and to save money on models. Van Gogh would paint with a mirror held in one hand.
This self portrait, one of his last, was created at a time when Van Gogh was feeling healthier. He had just checked himself out of the St. Remy asylum and was headed north to Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris.
The background is filled with waves and spirals. The painting has tense brushstrokes. The dominant colors are mint green and turquoise.
Van Gogh’s features are gaunt and grizzled, framed in contrasting fiery orange shades. Van Gogh himself is immobile, but everything else in the painting is like an undulating force field.
Van Gogh took the painting with him to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, and showed it to Dr. Paul Gachet, who found it “absolutely fanatical.” Scholars are divided in determining this or Self-Portrait Without Beard was Van Gogh’s final self-portrait.
3. Portrait of the Artist
This is another Van Gogh famous self portrait in the Orsay. In this one, Van Gogh adapted a Neo-Impressionist technique.
He didn’t use dots. Instead, he used a combination of short and longer brushstrokes, moving the brushstrokes in varying directions.
There are stark contrasts of color and restless daubs of paint. Heavy lines of paint emanate from his head. There’s a stark contrast between the dark background and the yellow-orange tones of his skin and hair.
Perhaps the contracts and intensity reflect the fervor and fragility of Van Gogh’s life.
4. Bedroom in Arles
Van Gogh told his brother Theo that he sought to evoke tranquility. His bright colors and straight lines were meant to express absolute repose, simplicity, and serenity. He wanted the blocks of color to “do the job” of composition.
Despite this aim, The Bedroom seems to teem with nervous energy, instability, and turmoil. The effect is heightened by the sharply receding perspective, which was a deliberate choice.
Van Gogh, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890
5. Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Portrait of Dr Gachet is one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings and a highlight of the Orsay. Van Gogh painted this portrait of his personal doctor in Auvers-sur-Oise.
When van Gogh left the mental asylum in Saint-Remy in Provence, his brother Theo advise him to continue his psychiatric treatment.
Dr. Gachet was the perfect man for the job. Apart from being a homeopathic physician, Dr. Gachet was an amateur painter and supporter of the arts. Seemingly, for a time, Van Gogh was much happier in Auvers than in Provence.
Van Gogh painted the doctor during a particularly intense creative phase. Van Gogh captures Dr. Gachet in a melancholy moment.
Van Gogh said the portrait reflected “the desolate expression of our time.” Like Van Gogh, Dr. Gachet also suffered from depression and mood disorders.
The only touch of hope in this severe portrait brushed in cool colors is the foxglove, which is thought to have curative properties. In 1990, another version of Dr. Gachet sold at auction for $82.5 million.
This painting was one of a series of paintings that Van Gogh painted of Marie Ginoux. Ginoux was the owner of a Cafe de la Gare in Arles. Van Gogh lodged with her until he moved into his Yellow House.
Van Gogh’s first painting of Ginoux, which he “knocked off in an hour,” is in the d’Orsay. It reflects a happier time for the artist. Gauguin was staying with him in Arles and gave the artist a degree of camaraderie.
Van Gogh gave one of the paintings in the series to Gauguin. The artist liked it, telling Van Gogh: “take this as a work belonging to you and me as a summary of our months of work together.”
Against a lemon yellow background, Madame Ginoux is depicted as kind, comforting and almost maternal.
7. La Méridienne
La Meridienne translates to The Siesta. It was painted while Van Gogh was a patient in a mental asylum in Saint-Remy.
The composition is inspired by the works of Francois Millet, a Realist painter who painted rural scenes in the 1860s.
Van Gogh often copied the works of Millet, whom he considered to be “a more modern painter than Manet.” Although this Van Gogh painting in the Orsay is similar to Millet’s original composition, Van Gogh imposes his own style on the restful scene.
Van Gogh employs one his favorite chromatic devices, using the contrasting but complementary colors of blue and yellow-orange. Despite the peaceful nature of the subject, the painting radiates Van Gogh’s trademark intensity.
8. Imperial Fritillaries in a Copper Vase
Van Gogh painted flowers for much of his brief career. He found that nature provided a calming inspiration. He gave his still lifes the same characteristic beauty and intensity as his portraits
This Van Gogh painting in the Orsay has a lively composition. The color contrasts and movement are exaggerated to riveting effect.
The dotted background may reflect the influence of his friend, the Neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signac.
Van Gogh though certain color combinations caused each one to shine more brilliantly. He thought that orange and blue completed each other, akin to a couple.
9. Church in Auvers-Sur-Oise, 1890
Van Gogh spent the last few months of his life in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, which is an easy day trip from Paris.
It was his most prolific period. Some of his greatest masterpieces were painted here, including Crows Over Wheatfield, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and Church at Auvers.
The Roman-Gothic Church of Auvers fascinated van Gogh. It’s a sober and beautiful edifice, built in the 12th century.
In Van Gogh’s painting, the church is a flamboyant monument, not a faithful representation. It seems almost dislocated from the ground.
The church is dark and gloomy, it dark windows reflecting the dark sky and perhaps Van Gogh’s dark mood.
10. Eugene Boch
Eugene Boch was a Belgian painter and became a friend to Van Gogh during his time in Arles. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh said: “I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because it is his nature.”
Van Gogh referred to this Orsay painting as a “first sketch.” But he liked it enough to hang it in his room next to a portrait of Millet.
Nearly a month later, Van Gogh made another version of the portrait. But he was not satisfied with the outcome as he had no model posing for him.
The portrait was given to Boch following the deaths of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. When Boch died in 1941, the portrait was bequeathed to the Louvre and moved to the Orsay.
11. Japanese Vase With Roses and Anemones
Van Gogh painted this still life for Dr. Gachet, his doctor and confidant, in return for his kindness. Van Gogh thought Dr. Gachet’s house was black, black, black.”
With this painting, Van Gogh tried to bring some life to the house. The bright colors evoke the light hearted Oriental mood that was fashionable at the time. The motif is symbolized by the knotted branch on the vase.
The composition seems influenced by Cezanne. It has an assertively angled table top and a rose jutting out incongruously.
The flowers themselves are stylized, much like you might find in a Japanese print from the time.
Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Van Gogh, 1887
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the must see Van Gogh paintings at Paris’ wonderful Musee d’Orsay. You may enjoy these other Paris travel guides and resources:
- 3 Day itinerary for Paris
- 3 Day Impressionism Itinerary for Paris
- 5 Day Itinerary for Paris
- Top Attractions in Montmartre
- Hidden Gems in Paris
- Best Museums in Paris
- Guide to the Picasso Museum
- Secret Day Trips From Paris
- Tips for Visiting Paris Like a Local
- Small Secret Museums in Paris
- Tips For Visiting the Louvre
- Underrated Masterpieces at the Louvre
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