From 1886 to 1888, Van Gogh was living in Paris. It was during this time that he created many still life paintings; a lot of these were of fish or fruit, but there were several paintings he created of shoes. One of the most notable shoe paintings that Van Gogh created was A Pair of Shoes, 1886 (shown below – top left). This painting was discussed in an essay titled “The Origin of the Work of Art” by Martin Heidegger in the 1930s and has since been the subject of many debates surrounding art and life.
Another reason that the shoe paintings still fascinate individuals today is that these works are also often interpreted as a study of Van Gogh’s life. In these paintings, he captures a pair or pairs of shoes on the floor most with laces untied as if they have just been taken off at the end of a long day. Unlike other still life subjects, the shoes have been to all the places and have seen all of the struggles of the owner. To many, Van Gogh’s shoes with the worn leather and tired soles represent the rough life of the artist himself and the weathered journey he has endured.
In a letter to his brother Theo from August 29, 1888, Van Gogh wrote about a still life and one of the shoe paintings when stating,
“I have heaps of ideas for my work, and if I go on with figure painting very industriously, I may possibly find more. But what’s the use? Sometimes I feel too feeble to fight against existing circumstances, and I should have to be cleverer and richer and younger to win.
Fortunately for me, I do not hanker after victory any more, and all that I seek in painting is a way to make life bearable.”
Today Van Gogh’s shoe paintings can be seen in several different museums including The Van Gogh Museum, Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, The Baltimore Museum of Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There is also one in a private collection.
View Van Gogh’s shoe paintings below, and comment and share your thoughts on these works.