Vincent van Gogh's oil-on-canvas painting, "Irises" is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. The painting was finished about a week after he admitted himself to an asylum on May 8, 1889. The subject of his paintings while he was in the asylum were the gardens which he wandered through surrounding the asylum. While hospitalized at the St. Paul-de-Mausole Asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France, he painted almost 130 pieces. One of the pieces he painted, was "Irises" which sold in 1987 for 54 million dollars. The painting was sold to Alan Bond, who was unable to come up with all the money and the painting has to be resold.
Today, "Irises" is displayed at the "J. Paul Getty Museum" in Los Angeles, California.
As many of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists of his time, Vincent van Gogh was taken in by the "ukiyo-e". "Ukiyo-e" are Japanese Woodblock Prints, which were fairly new to the Europeans at that time. "Ukiyo-e" literally means "floating world picture"; uki (floating); yo (world); e (picture).
This excitement or craze about all things Japanese, was termed " Japonisme" by a French Journalist and art critic, Philipe Burty in 1876. Japan had just opened its borders to the world, and Europe was beginning to experience the exquisite Japanese works of art. However, these "ukiyo-e" prints were being produced in Japan from the 17th to the 20th century; years before Europeans even knew of their existence.
"Ukiyo-e" was particularly beautiful and unique since it utilized "black contours" in the paintings. Each painting was so well-defined and exquisite. Although Van Gogh used the Japanese style to influence his work of art, it is in no way close to resembling a typical "ukiyo-e" painting. What Van Gogh did was to use a basic theme in "ukiyo-e" paintings, called the "black contours" to outline his irises. However, the actual painting of the irises is coarse and rough; a dichotomy as his personal life was; being sane only while he was painting.
The dramatic contrast of the background with the bright blue outlined Irises creates an awe-effect. The intriguing single white Iris in the painting is further exaggerated because of the use of the Japanese "black contours". Its creates an emboldened effect, and may have been a representation of himself, amid the rest of the people. The white iris is at the very left of the painting, somewhat alone, while the other blue irises are situated at the right side, all together. The blue irises almost leaning toward the white iris, pushing it out of our visual field. All of these sublime effects could not have been achieved without the "black contours" which have helped to create a startling effect even from afar.