Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette

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Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette (Dutch: Kop van een skelet met brandende sigaret) is an early work by Vincent van Gogh. The small and undated oil-on-canvas painting featuring a skeleton and cigarette is part of the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

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Giclee Print – Paper:
Giclee print on premium archival quality Fine Art Matte paper. Certificate of Authenticity included. Shipped rolled and ready to be framed.

Giclee Print – Canvas:
Exhibition quality canvas stretched over wooden stretcher bars w/mirrored edge so none of the original image is lost. Certificate of Authenticity included. Ready to hang on your wall.

SKU: TRG-PRINT-INET-000237 Categories: , Tag: Artist: Van Gogh, Vincent


Vincent van Gogh is one of the most celebrated artists of all time, known for his innovative use of color and dramatic brushstrokes. His paintings are admired for their raw emotion and expressive style, capturing the essence of the world around him. One of his lesser-known works, “Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette,” is a haunting and enigmatic piece that invites viewers to reflect on the transience of life.

Painted in 1886, the same year as some of van Gogh’s most famous works such as “The Potato Eaters,” “Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette” is a small oil painting that measures only 32 x 24.5 cm. The subject matter is straightforward – a skull of a skeleton with a cigarette between its teeth – yet the painting is full of symbolism and hidden meaning.

The skull is rendered in bold, expressive strokes of black and white, with deep shadows that lend it an ominous and foreboding quality. The cigarette, on the other hand, is a bright spot of orange that seems to glow against the darkness of the background. Its presence suggests that the skull belonged to someone who enjoyed smoking, but also hints at the fragility and fleeting nature of life. Smoking, after all, is a habit that is known to be harmful to health and can lead to an early death.

In many ways, “Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette” is a memento mori, a reminder of mortality and the inevitability of death. Van Gogh was deeply influenced by the Dutch tradition of vanitas paintings, which depicted objects such as skulls, hourglasses, and rotting fruit to symbolize the fleeting nature of life and the vanity of material possessions. In this painting, the skull and cigarette serve as reminders that life is short and should be lived to the fullest.

The painting is also notable for its composition, which is highly asymmetrical and off-center. The skull is placed at a diagonal angle, with the cigarette jutting out at an awkward angle. This unconventional composition adds to the painting’s sense of unease and instability, as if the skull and cigarette are on the verge of toppling over.

Despite its dark subject matter, “Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette” is not a morbid or depressing painting. Rather, it is a meditation on the beauty and fragility of life, a celebration of the fleeting moments that make up our existence. By depicting a skull with a cigarette, van Gogh invites us to contemplate our own mortality and to appreciate the simple pleasures of life while we can.

In conclusion, “Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette” is a haunting and thought-provoking work that exemplifies van Gogh’s distinctive style and philosophical outlook. Despite its small size and simple subject matter, the painting packs a powerful emotional punch, inviting viewers to reflect on the transience of life and the importance of living in the present.

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