… the treatment of edges, corners, and directions; its angularities, its coloring …
This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about L’Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux) painted in 1888. Please note that the online reproductions I can find all have the red book looking very orange:
… Astonishing and risky is the idea of bringing within one frame the portrait of an individual in reverie and the powerful pattern of extreme contrasts of hues, lights and darks, and intensities. As we fix upon it, the yellowish background, of which the face is a pallid reduction in color, begins to swallow up the portrait. (This ecstatic yellow, which darkens the image of the woman, perhaps sublimates a hidden eroticism.)
[line break added] But in the opposed dark blue of the costume and hair — a daring identity — are contained the strongest and most refined forces of characterization: the irregular silhouette with thorny points, unexpected little projections that belong with the fine breaks produced in the outline of the face by the eyelash and the nose. This dark blue mass is contrasted with the glowing yellow around it and the subdued, bleached, green-whiteness that it encloses. The dark green table supporting the figure in turn encloses that light greenness in the pages of the open book, a yellow like the background, and an intense vermilion, which refers us to the chair and the little touches of red on the face and the fichu.
[line break added] This fresh, un-Japanese still life of the books is of a particular beauty and originality, very refined in the treatment of edges, corners, and directions; its angularities, its coloring, are perfectly integrated with the larger masses above. After the shock of intense heat and stark contrasts, we perceive subtle relationships, a most interestingly broken, whimsical, changing silhouette, and inspired juxtapositions of object forms and reserved ground forms.
[line break added] A little detail that reveals van Gogh’s artistic tendency: the resemblance of the inclined dark yellow arm of the chair to the slanting spot of yellow in the background under the sitter’s right arm. Because of too rapid painting — the picture was “slashed on in an hour,” according to van Gogh — the work has suffered; the surface is deformed by numerous cracks and scaling.