Vincent van Gogh – Le Fou Roux

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Since my teenage years, I have admired Vincent van Gogh, the artist and his work. I remember going to a lecture on him while doing an art foundation course aged 17. I was enthralled by his story, and at the end they played Vincent (Starry Starry Night) by Don McLean. Oh it was so corny…but it actually made me cry!

But there is much more to Vincent van Gogh than the iconic Sunflowers and Starry Nights. He amassed in excess of 2000 artworks, consisting of around 900 paintings and 1100 pen and ink drawings and pencil sketches, and no doubt countless more undiscovered.

Le Fou Roux is my ‘Vanity Fair’ style homage to Vincent Van Gogh.

Between the years of 1868 to 1914, Vanity Fair Magazine portrayed ‘Spy’ caricatures of notable figures of the day who achieved fame or notoriety. The tone of these caricatures ranged from respectful, to comical, to cruel. The original Vanity Fair portraits are highly collectible among professionals. The portraits produced were paintings which were made into chromolithographs for publication in the magazine. These were then usually reproduced on higher quality paper and sold as prints.

It seems strange (although, probably only in retrospect) that certain colourful figures from the art world such as Vincent van Gogh and Gaugin were overlooked. Portraying both these personalities would have given artists such as Leslie Ward, aka Spy and Carlo Pellegrini aka Ape, free rein to do their worst!

But overlooked they were, so I thought I would create my own ‘Spy’ caricature of Vincent. I chose to do a respectful depiction.

I wanted to portray Vincent as he may have looked to the locals during the short period that he resided at the ‘Yellow House’ in Arles. The date along the top, February 1888, represents the month and year he moved there.

He produced at least 35 self portraits, but his face appears different in each one. Not helpful! So what did Vincent actually look like? There are so few documented photographs of him, but I suspect this early sketch by Vincent was probably the most accurate.

I collated as many images of Vincent by other people as I could find to get a better handle on his face. Special credit goes out to the magnificent photo realistic rendering of Vincent’s face by Dutch photographer Bas Uterwijk.

To create his clothing and posture, I borrowed visual references from photographs of people in similar garb around the same era; a stick from a Russian peasant, trousers from another, waistcoat from an Irish farmer, shoes from some London ruffian…you get the idea.

Vanity Fair Spy caricatures traditionally have a caption along the bottom of the image. I umm-ed and ah-ed while debating this caption. I was initially going to go with ‘La Tristesse Durera Toujours’ (the sadness will last forever), Vincent’s heart breaking last words to his faithful bother Theo. But I felt that this was too morbid. Also the Manic Street Preachers borrowed the phrase for the song La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) . The song has absolutely nothing to do with Vincent van Gogh, and although it is a beautiful track, in my mind it overshadowed the impact of the words.

For a short while I decided it would simply say’ Vincent’, but while researching, I stumbled upon the nickname which some of the residents of Arles and neighbours of The Yellow House gave to Vincent, not so much out of affection, but rather out of fear and disdain for his general anti-social behaviour.

‘Le Fou Roux’, loosely translates as the Red-headed Madman. As unkind as it was (Vincent was plagued with mental illness), it was probably an accurate summation of the striking, passionate, frenzied, manic Dutch man who made an everlasting impression on the residents.


Vincent van Gogh – Le Fou Roux | Vanity fair Style Portrait

These are gentle caricatures, nothing too extreme. As Leslie Ward (Spy) said:

If I could sum up the art in a sentence, it would be that caricature should be a comic impression with a kindly touch, and always devoid of vulgarity.Leslie Ward – Wikipedia

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To see more of my Vanity Fair style portraits visit my portfolio here.

To see more of Leslie Ward’s Vanity Fair portrait work click here.



Pencil sketch. Scanned. Painted digitally in Photoshop, using graphics tablet and stylus. Textures my own.

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