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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Two Crabs by Van Gogh

This painting is in the National Gallery in London, and should definitely not be missed if one is nearby it.  And the museum is free, so no excuses.
This was likely painted in 1889.  Van Gogh had spent the last months of 1888 living and working with fellow Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. He had hopes of founding a utopian artists’ collective, but his health and relationship with Gauguin quickly deteriorated. In December, he was taken to the Arles hospital after a self mutilation.  It is thought that Van Gogh painted Two Crabs right after his release from this hospital. He’d gone through a traumatic experience, but, as he explained in a letter to his brother Theo, he was ready to “get back into the habit of painting.”

It’s this transition period that Two Crabs captures so well. Its composition is made up of vibrant hatching brushstrokes called “taches.” The crabs’ crisp edges and van Gogh’s juxtaposition of complementary colors make it seem like the scene could move. The green, sea-like background undulates while the upper crab flails its legs. With the ground tipped almost vertically, the crabs look like they could tumble out of the painting at any second. Whether intentional or not, van Gogh was in effect illustrating his own tumultuous and uncertain situation at the time.

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