Photo by Caitlin Savage

After months of anticipation, the time has finally arrived. On Sunday, the Denver Art Museum opened its exhibition of Becoming Van Gogh. Featuring more than 70 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh (as well as nearly 30 works by artists he responded to) Becoming Van Gogh illustrates the methodical steps that Van Gogh took over his short career to become one of the world’s most famous artists.

Vincent van Gogh, Head of Gordina de Groot, 1885. Oil on canvas; 16-1/8 x 13-3/4 inches (41 x 34.5 cm). Private collection, image courtesy of Eykyn Maclean

Focusing on the various stages of Van Gogh’s artistic development, the exhibition contains numerous sections, each building on the last. In addition, many of the areas include numerous examples of the various methods the artist used to teach himself how to draw and paint (as well as the artists and artistic movements that influenced his work.)

The show begins with a side of Van Gogh that may seem foreign to most of us. For one thing, the vibrant colors most commonly associated with the artist are largely absent from the works. Instead, the viewer is greeted with muted tones of blue, gray and black. Sketching images of peasant workers and ordinary objects such as tattered shoes, the pieces provide a seemingly rustic air.

Vincent van Gogh, Autumn Landscape, 1885. Oil on canvas laid down on panel; 25-1/4 x 34-1/4 inches (64 x 87 cm). © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Moving into the next space, the works maintain the same muted palette that characterizes the artist’s earliest pieces. However, it is here that Van Gogh begins to experiment with color. Abandoning drawing for painting, the artist focuses his effort on mastering color and color theory. This is particularly evident in his piece “Autumn Landscape.” In this work, the color of the sky is made all the more intense when contrasted with the yellow leaves of the trees (this is of particular consideration given the fact that Van Gogh learned that the impression a color makes is determined not only by the color itself but also by the colors around it.)

Vincent van Gogh, Vase with gladioli and China asters, 1886. Oil on canvas; 18-1/2 x 15-1/3 inches (47 x 39 cm). Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

However, it isn’t until his Parisian period (1886-1888) that the Van Gogh we are most accustomed to begins to take shape. Vibrant hues of red, yellow, green and blue (among other bold colors) occupy the majority of the works. Focusing on still life (i.e. vases of flowers, fruit,) Van Gogh starts to experiment with thicker paints and quick, short brushstrokes, creating texture that virtually pops off of the canvas.

The intensity of color and texture continues to build up throughout the remainder of the exhibition, coming full circle with three of the artist’s self-portraits (as well as numerous landscape scenes.) As an in-depth exploration of the evolution of one of the world’s most recognizable artists, Becoming Van Gogh is perhaps the most unique exhibition of the artist up to the current date. Becoming Van Gogh runs through Jan. 20, 2013. An audio guide (one for adults and one for children) is available for an additional fee. For tickets and more information visit


Jessica Kleinman is an art and culture intern/writer for 303 Magazine. She is currently studying journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her posts on Twitter