Vincent van Gogh: 5 underrated and inspiring paintings

Beatriz Freitas
6 min readDec 2, 2023

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most treasured artists of the 19th century, admired still today for his unique and expressive perspectives. Best known for painting canvas like Starry Night, Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, Café Terrace at Night, or The Potato Eaters, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to show a few paintings most people, including myself, never heard of.

The small collection I gathered here is impressive because of its approaches and singularities, especially regarding contrast. However, still being unique and different from his famous paintings, they all carry specific traits that make it possible to identify them as his creations.

Another interesting point is that through this canvas, we can see the ups and downs of his mental health, which can be analyzed through the subjects of his painting, as well as the forms and colors in which he decided to portray them.

Disclaimer: Art is a potent and subjective expression of non-verbal communication that opens doors for thoughts and perspectives. Some of the things written here are based on studies I read before, and some are personal impressions I had when analyzing Vincent’s work. Not everything written here might resonate with you. That is why it is essential that, before reading the texts, you take a few minutes to analyze and develop your impressions about the images shown here. Remember that when it comes to art, there is no right or wrong. Just enjoy it!

Still Life Majolica with Wildflowers (1888)

Photo credit:

The choice for Sicilian yellow, brighter than the tones he used for Café Terrace at Night or Bedroom in Arles, contradicts the title since most still life subjects are soberer and darker pieces.

Even though this was created in Arles, the lighter tone of yellow and cup of tea resemble the Amalfi Coast in Italy and the classical Greek intricate patterns in black and gold, respectively. Both these elements add a rusty and campestrian atmosphere to the painting, complemented by the portrait of flowers and plants.

However, the level of detailing and precision with which the vase and flowers are captured, possibly with thinner and smaller brushes, balances the blurry and rough background of the wall and floor. This difference emphasizes the textures of the smooth teacup compared to the scratchy and grainy surface on which all objects lay.

Snow-Covered Fields in Arles (1888)

Photo credit: via Pinterest

The surprising thing about this canvas is the thick strokes that make it nearly impossible to distinguish precisely the shapes and contours of every element, except for the man and the dog on the upper left side of the painting. Even though all the paint applications are very marked and emphatic, it’s hard to differentiate where one element starts and another ends. This is more evident in the landscape, where the house and mountain blur into one.

In terms of contrast, this is a rich picture in which Vincent played beautifully with colors and textures. The choice for a deep earthy-toned red to capture this field in Arles contrasts nicely with the melting white and bluish snow. The texture of the soft melted crayon sky obtained by impasto contrasts nicely with the rough patches of soil on the ground, giving another dimension to the painting.

Self Portrait without Beard (1889)

Photo credit:

Every time I try to picture this talented artist, partially because of the other portraits he did of himself, he is always bearded. The first time I saw this, I had difficulty recognizing him despite the red hair and the pointy nose. The focus on the well-defined shapes, especially the nuances of his face, is refreshing to the painting and something you don’t see in all his work.

The hollow below his left eye, in the shape of a running tear, adds another atmosphere of sadness to the painting. The tear on his right eye makes you wonder if it was intentionally portrayed to represent his sadness, complementary to the cold and greyish color, or if it was merely part of his facial features.

Fun Fact: This particular canvas was painted right after van Gogh and Gauguin stopped sharing accommodations, which later implied an increased deterioration of his mental status.

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries (1888)

Photo credit:

This painting is a vivid expression of the Mediterranean coast near Arles, a place Vincent would visit when he was treated in one of the hospitals nearby.

The fascinating thing about this particular painting is the bold and vibrant choices of primary colors. The joyful and uplifting atmosphere is an accurate representation of the landscape as well as a reflection of his adoration for the shores of Arles.

We can see the same swirling wind of Starry Night, but this time painted with a combination of blue, green, lilac, and yellow, which makes the sky appear almost translucent.

These tones, particularly the blue, match the ones used in the ocean, creating a feeling of continuity in which the waves complement the blowing winds. Also, the imprecise, almost slouchy, way he painted the sand fits perfectly with the rough grains of Mediterranean sand, making the undulations of the soil seem hurtful and unpleasant to walk upon.

Sketch credit:

However, before he painted the canvas, he sketched the same landscape with more angular shapes and precise lines. It is interesting to see the level of detail the boats were captured with, details that are replaced in the canvas for more subjective and blurry coloring.

Fun Fact: In one of his letters to Theo, his brother, he mentioned how easy it was to sketch the boats and the environment since everything in Saintes-Maries was vivid and harmonic. Perhaps it wasn’t because of the environment but because of his healthier state of mind during his states in Arles.

Two Crabs (1889)

Photo credit:

This is one of my favorite paintings, if not for the simplicity, then for the appealing choice of color between a greenish-turquoise blue and a faded reddish-orange paint.

This is believed to have been painted after his release from a psychiatric hospital in 1889. His choice for this still life is a surprising reintroduction to van Gogh. This canvas is believed to be inspired, like many others, by Japanese artists, in this case, Katsushika Hokusai.

Fun Fact: van Gogh was a great lover of Japanese culture and art. Throughout his career, he painted many canvases in the traditional Japanese style — like Flowering Plum Tree — and was inspired by many Japanese landscapes — best portrayed in his famous canvas Almond Blossom.

More of van Gogh:

For those of you who enjoy exploring the least known and famous van Gogh’s painting, in my first article, Five Life-changing Paintings Everyone Should See Before Dying, I highlighted a canvas he created inspired by Gustave Doré’s work. The painting Prisoners’ Round embodies the melancholic atmosphere through layers of green and blue tones that emphasize the theme portrayed.



Beatriz Freitas

Brazilian. Fourth-year medical student. Love arts and social science.