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Van Gogh Canvas Recycling

by VanGoghology

Times weren’t THAT hard, but Vincent certainly had to be frugal.

Self Portrait678 min

Van Gogh’s financial difficulties were largely due to his inability to sell his artwork during his lifetime. Despite producing over 2,000 artworks, he only managed to sell a few paintings. This lack of commercial success meant that he relied on the financial support of his brother, Theo, who provided him with a modest allowance to cover his basic needs.

Modest compared with some, generous compared with others. For example, take Postman Joseph Roulin, who was earning 135 francs a month, versus Vincent’s 150 and 200 francs a month.

His financial struggles were exacerbated by his mental health issues, which often prevented him from holding a steady job or maintaining a stable income. His erratic behavior and inability to conform to societal norms also made it challenging for him to earn a consistent living.

There is no question that Vincent needed to allocate his funds with a certain amount of prudence, and this would often mean reusing his canvases. In fact, when the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam analyzed 130 of his paintings, it was determined that approximately 15% had been painted over. Some of these are:

Self-portrait with dark felt hat (F 208a JH 1089), painted in Paris, between December 1886-January 1887 is painted over a study of a nude model.

Vincent used a layer of ground in order to cover the nude before applying fresh paint for his new self-portrait.

Women on the Peat Moor (F 0019 JH 0409) Drenthe, October 1883 is painted over an earlier composition with more figures, almost identical to his sketch in letter 393, October 1883 (below)

Women working in the peat

Women working in the peat

Still life with three birds’ nests (F 109r JH 942) Nuenen, September/October 1885 X-ray shows part of an interior with a loom.

Jar, brass bowl and potatoes (F 51 JH 925) Nuenen, September 1885 is painted over a shepherd wearing a large cloak holding a staff. 

Still life with two sunflowers (F 376 JH 1331) is painted over a portrait of a man wearing a straw hat whilst sitting at a table holding a drinking glass. (Most likely a self-portrait).

Cottage at nightfall (‘La Chaumière’) (F 83 JH 777) Painted in Nuenen 1885 shows a shepherd with his flock underneath, as does Two baskets of potatoes (F 107 JH 933); also, a Nuenen completed work in 1885. This painting additionally reveals a woman at the spinning wheel underneath, meaning that Van Gogh painted over Two baskets of potatoes, twice! While Farming village at twilight (F 190 JH 492) aka Village at Sunset 1884, is painted over a previous Still Life of two baskets of potatoes.

Self-portrait at the easel (F 181 JH 1090) July-August 1886 is painted over a windmill and terrace on Montmartre, possibly Moulin le Blute-fin.

Van Gogh The vicarage garden under snow January 1885 jpeg


The vicarage garden under snow, 1885, is painted over a woman at a spinning wheel, almost identical to the spinning wheel composition beneath Two baskets of potatoes.

Head of a Peasant Woman 1885 (Gordina De Groot) of the masterpiece The Potato Eaters, was painted on top of a self-portrait.

Leaving the church at Nuenen (F 25 JH 521) 1884, shows a previous composition of the painting; The original version shows the church slightly off kilter, and a man carrying a spade over his shoulder.

Still Life with Pottery and Two Bottles (F 57 JH 539) 1884, is painted over a shepherd with flock.

Three bottles and pottery (F 53 JH 538) 1885, is painted over a peasant woman wearing a bonnet and bending forward, as though she is boiling water or preparing dinner.

Still life with three beer mugs (F 49 JH 534) 1885, is painted over a portrait of Gordina de Groot, similar to Head of a woman (F 160 JH 722)

Basket of apples September 1885 is painted over a bouquet of honesty in a pot and smoker’s requisites belonging to Van Gogh’s father, the Reverend van Gogh.

To name a few

Basket of Apples2 min


Vincent used a variety of techniques to hide the underlying artwork when he reused canvases. Before applying new ground, he would occasionally scrape off the old paint or use dark-blocking paint. On other occasions, he would hide the original by directly applying a mixture of pigments; emerald green was a common pigment choice.

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