The Irises is the first piece Van Gogh painted during his stay in the asylum in St. Remy called Saint-Paulde-Mausole, where he sought treatment for his condition after several instances of unstable and violent behavior, resulting in the severing of his own ear. Irises is actually a still shot from the natural views of the asylum’s own garden. It shows a profusion of bright blue flowers with colors so vibrant and details unique to each flower, with tamed, balanced and symmetrical elements that make this a light and easy painting to look at, as some of his flower paintings appear a bit dark, which could be representative of his mental state while painting.
Van Gogh has always shown a strong appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which may have been a result of growing up in a beautiful Dutch countryside, he was also very fond of Japanese woodprints, which is also evident in Irises. He was able to paint a total of more or less 130 paintings in isolation at St. Remy.
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5 facts about Irises
- “Irises” held the record for the most expensive artwork in 1987 when it sold for $53.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
- Each flower in the “Irises” painting is unique, featuring different kinds of shading, shapes, sizes and movement. You can check the painting yourself and see that no flower is identical, even when rotated in any direction.
- Vincent Van Gogh himself did not consider this painting a masterpiece. To him, it was merely a study. However, his younger brother Theo, who was an art dealer by profession saw potential from the beginning, saying the painting “strikes him from a far” and that “it is a beautiful study full of air and life”. Theo himself submitted the original piece to Salon des Indépendants in September 1889.
- Van Gogh expressed what painting truly meant to him during his stay in St. Remy, saying that it was the “lightning conductor” for his illness. When he paints, he is convinced that he may not really be crazy, and that painting alone might save him. Sadly, he lost his fight with mental illness by ending his own life about a year after he painted Irises.
- This last fact is not quite a fact, but an image of the actual outdoor area in St. Remy Asylum where Van Gogh made the most progress painting while he was seeking treatment in isolation. It’s not hard to see the lonely, dull and lifeless color of the asylum structure, which in this picture can represent the darker side of Van Gogh that needs treating. The Van Gogh who when not spending a day outside painting nature would have constant psychotic episodes and outbursts. This photo, in our unbiased opinion, may be a great representation of his duality and states of mind.
How much is this piece worth and where is it now?
Irises had around 12 owners and currently resides with the latest owner, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California. The museum refuses to disclose the painting’s worth, given its non-disclosure policy. But if it was sold at $53 million in the ’80s, it’s safe to assume its worth now to be over $100 million.