The works of the painter Van Gogh fit the artistic current of post-impressionism. These are characterized by having strong colors capable of attracting a very diverse audience. But why did the same colors almost always predominate? Science can answer that puzzle.
Van Gogh’s work is extensive, but among his best known works is the oil painting “Girassóis”.
The realization of this magnificent work was possible thanks to the use of new pigments developed throughout the 19th century, especially chrome yellow, which gave sunflowers a luminous color.
However, nowadays, the paintings no longer have the intense yellow tone that marked them at the time, now giving way to a more ambiguous tone between yellow and brown. This change can be explained by chemical changes that occur in the yellow chromium pigment due to exposure to ultraviolet rays.
In any case, Van Gogh had a preference for the color yellow, manifesting itself in most of his works.
According to The Convsersation, the painter’s indisputable preference for yellow color has been associated with foxglove, a medicinal plant that was used to treat various diseases. In the 19th century, foxglove was used to treat manic-depressive crises, which is why the painter used to use it in an attempt to alleviate the crises that he often had.
Unfortunately, patients who consumed this substance in excess developed xanthopsia, a disease that altered color perception. Individuals with this pathology tended to see objects with a more yellowish tint.
In this perspective, Van Gogh saw the world through a yellow filter caused by the medicine he consumed, and so the painter transferred only the tones he observed to his works, writes Raúl Rivas González, professor at the University of Salamanca, in his article.
Foxglove was prescribed to Van Gogh by his personal doctor, Paul Gachet. In fact, in Van Gogh’s portrait of Gachet, the doctor appears with a bouquet of foxgloves on the table.
Gachet was aware of the side effects that the substance could cause, so he strongly recommended that he did not use drugs while administering the plant, as this mixture could cause syncope by slowing heartbeat or causing organ paralysis.
With an acute xanthopsia, whites and yellows would be indistinguishable for the painter, and blues for greens, but some experts concluded that the artist suffered from the disease to a moderate degree.
Other hypotheses suggest that it is possible that the painter suffered from subacute angle-closure glaucoma. This visual illness would explain the “halos” that Van Gogh painted in some of his works and which are evident in several paintings, such as “O Café Noturno” or “A Noite Estrelada”.
Even so, and in the midst of so many theories, Van Gogh’s work remains full of unsolved puzzles, but always with the certainty of the presence of extraordinary beauty.