Along with drinking too much coffee and not eating well, Van Gogh also smoked. He didn’t smoke cigarettes though, but instead smoked a tobacco pipe that he would continually puff on and was rarely seen without.

This wasn’t his only vice, he also drank and here he would often enjoy to excess.

Did van Gogh smoke cigarettes?

Van Gogh and his pipe

Van Gogh was a passionate pipe smoker, he smoked heartily his whole life. Using both clay pipes, and ones made from cherry wood. He often admitted to smoking too much in his letters and to his friends.

Smoking was highly regarded in the 1880s especially in artistic circles. The pipe became a status symbol, and often it was very precisely chosen.

It is hard to believe that Van Gogh would have taken up smoking a pipe for those very reasons, but it has often been noted from other peoples recollections on meeting with him that he was always smoking.

Exhibition of Van Gogh’s pipes

In 2015 at the Amsterdam Pipe Museum, an exhibition was held showing replicas of the pipes contained in Van Gogh’s art works. Sixteen pipes from his self-portrait, portrait and still life work featured in the exhibition, all identified by pipe experts from the paintings themselves.

Next to the exhibited pipes excerpts from some of Van Gogh’s letters were shown where he discussed the enjoyment he got from smoking. In this example he describes his relaxed manner in which ideas would come to him at the times he smoked, a very deep an alert state:

‘The best pictures are always those one dreams of when one is smoking a pipe in bed, but which never get done. But still one ought to try, however incompetent one may feel before the unspeakable perfection and radiant splendour of nature.’

Smoking in Van Gogh's paintings

Van Gogh’s pipe feature in some of his still lifes, such as Vincent's chair with his Pipe, self portraits, such as Self-Portrait With A Bandaged Ear, and he also painted cigarette smoking in Skull With Burning Cigarette a famous work especially since it was not mentioned in Vincent’s letters.

What is the meaning of Skull with Burning Cigarette?

With the open-ended nature to its meaning it has been often discussed, with some thinking that it may have been a comment on death, and the macabre. Scholars at the Van Gogh Museum disagree, they believe it was Van Gogh having some fun.

He had not thought highly of the professors or the teaching methods used at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium where this painting was believed to have been made.

Did Van Gogh have dark Sense of Humour?

This was most likely a class exercise that Van Gogh, with a little creative addition, decided the skull should have a smoke. The scholars assure us that even though Van Gogh is often thought of as a mentally unstable though gifted artist, he was actually a very humourous person, and often displayed a playful and sometimes dark sense of humour.

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    08-12-2016 16:20     Comments ( 1 )
Comments (1)
 Susan -  24-12-2018

Your commentary of Vincent's smoking with the full pulse of his spirit is grand! Thank you!