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“La Mousmé” by Vincent van Gogh

La Mousmé by Vincent van Gogh

“La Mousmé” by Vincent van Gogh

“La Mousmé” by Vincent van Gogh is a portrait of a young Provençale girl. Her face is carefully modeled with vigorous linear patterns of bold complementary colors that express Van Gogh’s sympathetic response to his sitter.

In several descriptions of the painting, Van Gogh mentioned the oleander buds in her hand. The flowers’ significance may be related to Van Gogh’s views on birth and renewal’s natural cycles.

Van Gogh wrote that portrait studies were:

“the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else.”

The painting was inspired by Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Chrysanthème in which a naval officer was married to a Japanese woman when he was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan.

The story from the novel and Van Gogh’s passion for  Japanese artwork influenced the “La Mousmé,” depicting a western-dressed Japanese girl. He wrote in a letter to his brother:

“It took me a whole week…but I had to reserve my mental energy to do the mousmé well. A mousmé is a Japanese girl—Provençal in this case—twelve to fourteen years old.”

Van Gogh’s use of color was symbolic, but the contrasting patterns and colors brought energy and intensity to his work. The flowering oleander, like the girl, is in the blossoming stage of life.

Complementary shades of blue and orange, a stylistic deviation from colors of Impressionist paintings, stand out against the pale green background. 

The girl’s dress is a blend of modern and traditional. The bright colors of the skirt and jacket are of the southern region of Arles. His greatest focus is on the girl’s face, giving her a Japanese influence.

It was painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1888, at the age of 35, while living in Arles in southern France, which van Gogh dubbed “the Japan of the south.”

He hoped that his time in Arles would evoke in his work the simple yet dramatic expression of Japanese art.

In a letter to his brother, Theo, he wrote,

“Painting as it is now, promises to become more subtle – more like music and less like sculpture – and above all, it promises color.” 

In about 444 days, van Gogh made about 100 drawings and produced more than 200 paintings. He also wrote more than 200 letters. While he painted quickly, he thought carefully before he put his brush to canvas.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime and was considered a madman and a failure.

He created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life.

They were characterized by bold colors and dramatic, impulsive, and expressive brushwork that contributed to modern art’s foundations.

La Mousmé

  • Title:                  La Mousmé
  • Also:                  La Mousmé, Sitting in a Cane Chair, Half-Figure (with a branch of oleander)
  • Artist:                Vincent van Gogh
  • Year:                  1888
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions      Height: 74 cm (29.1 in); Width: 60 cm (23.6 in)
  • Museum:          National Gallery of Art, D.C.

Vincent van Gogh

  • Name:                  Vincent Willem van Gogh
  • Born:                    1853 – Zundert, Netherlands
  • Died:                    1890 (aged 37) – Auvers-Sur-Oise, France
  • Resting place:      Cimetière d’Auvers-Sur-Oise, Auvers-Sur-Oise, France
  • Nationality:          Dutch
  • Movement:          Post-Impressionism

“La Mousmé” by Vincent van Gogh

A Virtual Tour of Vincent van Gogh

“La Mousmé” by Vincent van Gogh

A Virtual Tour of the National Gallery of Art

Vincent van Gogh – Japonaiserie: the influence of Japanese art.


“The best way to know God is to love many things.”
– Vincent van Gogh


Photo Credit: 1) Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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