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Skull with Burning Cigarette

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Oil on canvas
32.0 x 24.5 cm.
Antwerp: Winter, 1885/86
F 212, JH 999

Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum


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No doubt one of Van Gogh's most macabre works, Skull with Burning Cigarette is probably the most distinguished of his paintings from the Antwerp period.

It's likely that the work was painted from a skeleton in an anatomy class while Vincent was studying art. A sketch, Hanging Skeleton and Cat, from the same period would appear to confirm this. The work--a stark momento mori--was produced in a time when Van Gogh's health was poor (due to stomach ailments and rotting teeth) and may reflect Vincent's own concerns about his state of well-being. Some interpret the work as being a statement of defiance against Vincent's faltering health.

This disturbing painting may have been influenced by the similar macabre works produced by the Belgian artist Félicien Rops. It's known that Vincent owned a copy of Rops' Uilenspiegel, a satirical arts journal and the work of Rops (shown at right), The Husbands' Train: The Death of the Sinner, suggests a clear influence on Vincent's own two skull and skeleton works cited here.

Van Gogh may also have been influenced by one of his own countrymen, the 17th century Dutch artist, Hercules Segers, who also produced a disturbing work of a skull. It remains uncertain whether Van Gogh was aware of Segers' works, but he did, of course, have a thorough knowledge of Dutch painters throughout the 17th to 19th centuries.


Owner City Country Date acquired Comments
Theo van Gogh Paris France 1890-91  
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands 1891-1925  
V.W. van Gogh Laren Netherlands 1925-62  
Van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam Netherlands 1962 On loan to the Stedelijk Museum 1962-73.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Netherlands 1973 On permanent loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.


Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1910 Berlin (1) Germany Paul Cassirer Ausstellung Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 25 October 1910 20 November 1910 3
1953 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 17 October 1953 13 December 1953 53
1954 Toledo United States Toledo Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 7 March 1953 30 April 1953 53
1954 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 2 January 1954 28 February 1954 53
1955 Antwerp (1) Belgium Feestzaal Vincent van Gogh 7 May 1955 19 June 1955 125
1967 Wolfsburg Germany Stadhalle Wolfsburg Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen 18 February 1967 2 April 1967 17
1968-69 London United Kingdom Hayward Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings of the Vincent van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam 23 October 1968 12 January 1969 58
1980 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Van Gogh et la Belgique 3 October 1980 30 November 1980  
1994 Tokyo (1) Japan Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh and his Time. Van Gogh and Portraits from the Van Gogh Museum and the H.W. Mesdag Museum 14 September 1994 13 November 1994 2
1998-99 Washington, D.C. United States National Gallery of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 4 October 1998 3 January 1999 14
1999 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 17 January 1999 16 May 1999 14
2003 Amsterdam (2) Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Gogh Modern 27 June 2003 12 October 2003 ---

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