Van Gogh’s ‘Roses’

An oil-on-canvas floral painting I just finished yesterday. Here’s the story behind it — and the original still life masterpiece it is based on.


‘Roses’ (after Van Gogh) 30″x40″ Oil-on-Canvas — SOLD

Last month my daughter-in-law Sarah’s mom Suzanne was looking for “something new over the fireplace”, and Sarah was nice enough to recommend ME to create a large still life painting for her. Suzanne was tired of the current artwork over the mantle, and felt it was too red and wintery. She had shopped around at some bargain fine art places like Pier One and Bed Bath & Beyond but just couldn’t find a suitable large format oil painting with the right colors. She then went online and found a print of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Roses’ still life she could order from China; but fortunately she and Sarah decided to ask me if I could paint it instead. Well of course I could!

There is a long history of painters sitting in museums or churches, copying old masters; so I wasn’t the least bit reluctant to copy one of theirs. Actually I was excited by the opportunity to do a large 30”x40” depiction of flowers; most of my still lifes are only 11”x14”.

I love impressionist painters and their masterpieces, but I was not familiar with ‘Roses’. I discovered it had originally had a lot more pink in it that has since faded; and upon further examination I really wondered why he named it ‘Roses’, since very few of the flowers in this still life painting resembled a rose!

Close up photos of the original show mostly white blossoms with very thick paint applied to give definition to the petals. I checked with Suzanne and she agreed that whitish flowers with sage, colonial blue, and a few bits of pink thrown in would work for her décor and color scheme.

Van Gogh suffered from depression and was a self-admitted patient in Saint Remy’s Saint-Paul Asylum. After a year, he felt he had overcome his mental problems and was eagerly looking forward to his release. He painted the ‘Roses’ still life just before he left the asylum, and the flowers are described as being symbolic of this hopefulness. It is so sad that he only painted for 10 years before committing suicide.

Amazingly, only one of Van Gogh’s paintings sold while he was alive! Today his ‘Sunflowers’ still life has become the most copied art object in the world. And who doesn’t love ‘Starry Night’? I hope Vinny was having a good laugh watching me try to imitate his brushstrokes.

I brought home a giant canvas; and after prepping it, sketched out the major players and began applying the oil paint. I had a difficult time getting it thick enough — I would plan a brushstroke, load up my brush and unload it on the canvas in one stroke. But even then, it didn’t stand out from the canvas enough! Finally I got out my palette knife and just layered on big gobs of paint. It was great fun, almost like icing a cake!

After a couple days I felt like I was getting the hang of it, and I certainly had a greater appreciation of this beautiful piece and the challenges of still life painting. I was almost sorry to see it finished.

However, I was very eager to get it to my customer to brighten up that spot in her living room. I kept it for two weeks to let the thick gelatinous paint set up a little. Did you know it can take up to two years for oil paints to dry completely? Well we’ll handle it carefully and let it dry on Suzanne’s wall!

About Valerie Rawlings

Austin, Texas oil painter focusing on portraits, landscapes and still life paintings
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2 Responses to Van Gogh’s ‘Roses’

  1. Caren Upshaw says:

    Valerie, your painting talent is almost trumped by your fun descriptions!! Love hearing the story of your inspirations. and I too have a New Master “Monet” copy done by a friend over my fireplace! I also have written an unpublished mini book called Letting Gogh. Would you like to illustrate it?? 🙂

  2. Absolutely!!! I’d love to read your book — and illustrate it. Let’s get together to talk about it — lunch tomorrow?