Skeleton Smoking


Van Gogh struggled as an artist. His brother, Theo van Gogh, also supported him financially, and as an art dealer, helped sell his paintings.

ARTWORK in context

It is believed this was painted during the winter months when van Gogh studied drawing and painting at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Belgium.


Some say that van Gogh painted it as a joke or “satirical” image. Others say that it could have alluded to the idea of death, painted as a type of “memento mori”.

facing difficult times

Death and difficult times were not unfamiliar to Vincent van Gogh; he was also faced with numerous occasions when loved ones tried to commit suicide.

van gogh and smoking

Apparently, van Gogh also preferred smoking tobacco pipes and this too was regarded as a “status symbol”.

just playing around

If we look at van Gogh's work, we will find a lighter side to a darker subject matter. It is not often that we see a skeleton smoking, as if it is alive, evoking even a chuckle or grin.

subject matter

Van Gogh utilized a blackish background and portrayed the upper torso and head of a skeleton; we only see the shoulders and uppermost chest area.

color and light

There are two dominant areas of color, namely the dark, black, background and the off-whites of the skeleton’s bones that seemingly stand out more against the dark of the background.

brushstrokes and texture

The brushstrokes are seemingly haphazardly applied, running vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, in different shades of color, but all coming together to form the composition quite clearly.

perspective and scale

The painting appears like a portrait, the skeleton can be easily assumed to be sitting. It is portrayed from a semi-profile angle. The painting itself measures 32 by 24.5 centimeters (13 by 9.6 inches).

van gogh lit up

Van Gogh aptly illustrated the famous adage, “Smoking will kill you”, bringing to life an image that has been associated with death for centuries, which is the image of a skeleton.