the soul of the sitter

The 66,960 frames of oil painting that went into the making of Dorota Kobiela’s new production Loving Vincent, comprise the world’s first fully painted feature film. This is a staggering fact in itself, but the nature of being the ‘world’s first’ anything inevitably promises many more novel statistics. My favourite piece of trivia regarding the project being, that if you lay down every oil painting created for the film not only would it cover the square millage of London, but also the whole of Manhattan.

Figure 1 – Film still, courtesy of

While impressive, there is much more to Loving Vincent than the sheer effort of its construction. ‘We cannot speak, other than by our paintings’ is a quote lifted from one of van Gogh’s letters, something Loving Vincent ironically now renders false. Kobiela’s film uses the magic of technology developed almost 2 centuries later to take original images, and with something as simple as a turn of the head, instantly amplify both the character and the narrative surrounding them which goes on to provide social and personal details previously impossible to convey.

The tale that runs through Loving Vincent follows the character of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth, pictured above right), previously best known as the subject of van Gogh’s 1888 oil on canvas, in his attempt to deliver a letter to Theo van Gogh meanwhile adopting the structure of a quasi- murder mystery regarding Vincent’s suicide. The balance between a developmental plot and the movement through replicated van Gogh pieces makes the 90 minute production float by.

Figure 2 – Film still, courtesy of

While the story may be somewhat fictitious, irritating some critics and art historians alike, it seems necessary in order to weave the characters that coloured van Gogh’s life and the landscapes that he became so familiar with into a coherent film. In fact, the concept of this particular artistically inspired feature film explains the inspiration behind van Gogh’s work arguably better than a documentary style film ever could. It was said by Loving Vincent’s producer, Hugh Welchman, that van Gogh’s portrait work was designed to convey ‘the soul of the sitter’, in hope that in 100 year’s time

people could see the images and feel they know something more of the characters comprising them. Hence this 21st century addition to van Gogh’s work can be respected in its own right, for furthering the ethos of the artist himself. Van Gogh’s desire to encapsulate, commemorate and give voice to people of Auvers, within the context of the late 19th century was only possible using expression through colour and composition. Yet, with the aid of an extensive team, the tools previously unavailable in the 1800s can be used to add script, body language and everchanging facial expressions to van Gogh’s pieces while simultaneously seeing his story- telling intentions remain as the backbone to the new production.

Figure 3 – Film still, courtesy of

Each scene is set within a recognisable location of one of van Gogh’s paintings, such as Café Terrace at Night and The Trees of Les Alyscamps (both 1888). Though, this raises a difficulty with authenticity, as Loving Vincent is set in the midsummer months. Some of the landscapes used were painted in winter, meaning the production team were forced to brief the artists to alter their pallets towards a brighter display. This being said, each varied technique of painting between scenes ring true to van Gogh’s life-long stylistic experimentation, proving again that Loving Vincent is more than pure fantasy with an aesthetic backdrop, the film also acts as homage to van Gogh’s development.

Loving Vincent sees the work of van Gogh reimagined by abandoning the constraints of portrait and still life painting and suspends them in moving imagery. The use of the same medium, developed with modern technology evidences a merge of talents from the 1800s to 2018 which honours Vincent van Gogh and may even pave the way for a new art form in time to come perhaps connecting old masters and new creatives. Critics have disputed the need for more appreciation of an already renowned artist, but there is no denying that Kobiela’s film provides us with the evidence that we are all still very much and will continue to be, loving Vincent.



Featured image courtesy of

For more information about the production, head to the official website:

Written by Hannah Kettles


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