National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of La Mousmé Vincent van Gogh (artist)
Dutch, 1853 - 1890
La Mousmé, 1888
oil on canvas
overall: 73.3 x 60.3 cm (28 7/8 x 23 3/4 in.) framed: 99 x 86.3 x 10.1 cm (39 x 34 x 4 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
1963.10.151
On View
From the Tour: Postimpressionism
Object 4 of 8

The sensational aspects of Van Gogh's life and suicide often cloud the intention and deliberation behind his highly charged and expressive style. In a letter to his brother Theo he described how this painting consumed his attention: "It took me a whole week...but I had to reserve my mental energy to do the mousmé well." This name, he explained, came from a character in a popular novel set in Japan. "A mousmé is a Japanese girl—Provençal in this case—twelve to fourteen years old."

The girl's costume is a contrast of patterns and complementary shades of blue and orange. The paint in these bold stripes and irregular dots stands out against the pale green lattice of vertical and horizontal brushstrokes in the background. The vigorous patterns express Van Gogh's sympathetic response to his young sitter, whose face is carefully modeled and finished to a greater degree than other parts of his picture. Compare her hands, for example, which are more sketchily painted.

La Mousmé is one of a series of portraits that Van Gogh painted while living in Arles. They were, he wrote, "the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which made me feel the infinite more than anything else." The flowering branch the girl holds is probably related to Van Gogh's pantheistic faith in the power of nature's cycles of life and renewal.

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