Short answer: yes! Did you know Van Gogh even took piano lessons in Eindhoven? This was in 1883-1885 during his career as a painter. According to Anton Kerssemakers his teacher Hein van der Zanden thought “he must be dealing with a madman and became so afraid of him that he stopped the lessons”. But why?

Kerssemakers wrote in 1912:

“Van Gogh was always comparing painting with music, and so as to get a better understanding of the gradation of tones. He kept comparing the notes of the piano with Prussian blue and dark green or dark ochre to bright cadmium.”

You may enjoy Van Gogh’s creativity but it was too much for his piano teacher and he stopped the lessons. The intensity of a creative mind like Vincent’s is not easily muted though. Van Gogh’s associations between color and music were still very much alive in Arles a few years later.

To his brother Theo in September 1888:

"But I’m again the way I was in Nuenen, when I made a vain attempt to learn music - even then - so strongly did I feel the connections there are between our colour and Wagner’s music.”

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and his influence on Van Gogh

German composer Wagner made operas for big orchestras. Van Gogh had been to performances of Wagner with his brother in Paris in 1887. Theo wrote to their sister Willemien about it:

"And before Vincent left I went to a couple of Wagner concerts with him and we both enjoyed them very much."

Wagner had gone through financial trouble in his life just like Van Gogh. Wagner persisted, kept following his dreams and died wealthy and famous. Wagner’s life may have inspired Van Gogh to keep trying too. But in the first place it was the intimacy in Wagner’s music that influenced Van Gogh.

To Willemien in March 1888:

"But today’s palette is definitely colourful - sky blue, pink, orange, vermilion, brilliant yellow, bright green, bright wine red, violet. But by intensifying all the colours one again achieves calm and harmony. And something happens like with the Wagner music which, performed by a large orchestra, is no less intimate for that.”

Impressionism

Instead of depicting reality, painters in Van Gogh’s era rather tried to convey emotion. Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise” (hence the name impressionism) could have been the start of this movement. Van Gogh’s letters show how he wanted his paintings to console, to give comfort. To be more like music:
 
  • "Painting as it is now promises to become more subtle - more music and less sculpture - in fact, it promises colour.” - August 1888
  • "And in a painting I’d like to say something consoling, like a piece of music.” - September 1888
  • “..one can speak poetry just by arranging colours well, just as one can say comforting things in music.” - November 1888

His friend Paul Gauguin must have understood what Van Gogh meant. Vincent wrote to him in 1889:

"Ah! my dear friend, to make of painting what the music of Berlioz and Wagner has been before us... a consolatory art for distressed hearts! There are as yet only a few who feel it as you and I do!!!"

Do you hear music in Van Gogh’s paintings?

Could Van Gogh’s 'Blossoming Almond Tree' bring up Vivaldi’s ‘Spring' from 'The Four Seasons' to you at all? Does jazzy music by Django Reinhardt match Van Gogh’s painting ‘Café Terrace’ perhaps? And which music style suits Starry Night? Looking at Van Gogh’s paintings in a museum this way may bring you closer to how Van Gogh experienced his palette while painting his masterpieces.
Was Van Gogh inspired by music?
Van Gogh's 'Marguerite Gachet at the Piano' (Dr. Gachet's daughter)

Was Van Gogh inspired by Richard Wagner
Vincent and Theo enjoyed Wagner's operas in Paris.

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      25-01-2021 16:52     Comments ( 1 )
Comments (1)
 Kathy Shipp -  18-03-2021

I am disappointed that Van Gogh’s new Immersive Art Experience is not set to the music of Wagner or at least a contemporary. I loved the work; but I am a musician and that would have made it perfect as I study the arts as a whole.