Skeleton Skull With A Cigarette: Van Gogh’s Tale of Memento Mori

Van Gogh skeleton smoking featured image

“I am seeking, I am striving, and I am in it with all my heart.” –  Van Gogh

A life filled with sorrows and grief is often mixed in rolling sheets with tobacco and smoked till you get numb.

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is the exact representation of the feeling of being so lost in the pain that a person tries to smoke it all away.

But in the process, the person either loses the battle of life or wins it and shines bright.

Van Gogh is known for the creation of paintings that always have hidden and cryptic meanings behind them.

Whether it be The Starry Night, The Sunflowers, or any other paintings by Van Gogh, you will always find them comforting but saddening at the same time.

So, with all that being said, I have today researched Skeleton Smoking by Van Gogh and found really interesting facts and information about it.

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Let me take you through one of the most renowned paintings, Van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette.

About the Life Of Van Gogh

Self-portrait of vincent van gogh
Image Source: Wikipedia

Vincent Van Gogh was one of the post-impressionist painters who was known for his portrayal of feelings on a canvas.

He was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands, to an upper middle class Dutch family.

He had five siblings, out of which his brother Theo Gogh was the closest to him till the end and through all the thicks and thins.

As soon as Van Gogh completed his studies, he started working in art dealerships and commissioning artwork.

He moved to London and kept coming back and forth to Zundert as well.

To your surprise, it was a rejection—a rejection from his love interest—that bought out the hidden artist within Van Gogh. 

And since then, he started painting and his mental health started to get worse.

This was a brief introduction to the life of Van Gogh, now let us move forward with his creation: Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking. 

Suggested Read: Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet

About the Creation of Skeleton Smoking

Van Gogh painting one of his famous paintings
Image Source: Wikimedia
Name of the ArtworkSkull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette
Name of the ArtistVincent Van Gogh
Year of Creation 1885-86
GenreVanita/ Memento Mori 

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is an artwork that falls under the category of artworks that have some of the greatest painting mysteries of all time.

It is said that there are no details that have been shared by Van Gogh in reference to this painting.

The sources claim that not even his brother and companion, Theo Gogh, knew why Van Gogh painted the skeleton smoking a cigarette. 

It is highly believed that he painted this when he was studying arts and literature at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Belgium.

Also Read: Girl With Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Analysis of the Brushwork

Analysis of the painting of Skeleton smoking by van gogh
Image Source: Wikimedia; elements added by PortraitFlip

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is an oil on canvas medium painting.

When you take a look at the painting you can see that the artist has used the impasto technique along with the effects of chiaroscuro.

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is also considered as vanitas by many art critics and viewers.

It is claimed that Van Gogh painted this as a depiction of death and as an object of memento mori.

With this painting, Van Gogh tried to portray the concept of death and mortality.

The fact that death is inevitable.

If you focus on the brushwork of this painting then you can see that he has roughly painted the skull and the joints and the bones are precisely painted.

He has also added the cigarette to the skull’s mouth and has added the effects of smoke by using white and grey color.

The hollow eye sockets and the lean structure is said to have been that of Vincent Van Gogh himself, as he was known to have smoked a lot.

You can experience the depth of the painting as the background has been painted black by him and the skeleton has been made with an off-white color that gives the painting texture and details.

Overall, Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is an excellent example of chiaroscuro effect and covers the essential elements of post-impressionism.

Suggested Read: Mark Rothko’s Entrance to Subway

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Eye of a Critic

A woman looking at the painting of the skeleton smoking by van gogh
Image Source: Freepik

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is a phenomenal work of art.

Considering the fact that a single artwork can have multiple views and opinions,

Art critics believe that when Van Gogh was at Antwerp’s, he drew it completely because he was bored.

But, on the other hand, it is also believed that it is Van Gogh’s message to not smoke.

Some people also believed that Gogh drew this skeleton smoking a cigarette to cope with his father’s death, which led him to smoke recklessly.

If you look at the painting on a closer level, then you might notice that Van Gogh had a very decent knowledge of human anatomy. 

The reason behind that could be that his health has been on the decline for a long time.

Van Gogh was dealing mentally, physically, emotionally and financially as well, so he opted to smoke as his getaway from reality. 

This painting was never criticized, but it was never praised either. 

What I think is that Van Gogh’s skeleton smoking is a portrayal of the artist’s  condition and sufferings at that time.

Whereabouts of the Artwork

the skeleton smoking by van gogh on the show of museum
Image Source: Van Gogh Museum; Image altered by PortraitFlip

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking was soon out of the sight of the viewers who knew about it.

In 1962, Van Gogh Foundation procured the painting and kept it with them.

This 32 x 24.5 centimeters dimensional artwork is safely housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

It is now proudly a part of their permanent collection and the details of its worth have never been discussed or made live as per the sources.

Also Read: About American Gothic Painting


Here we are, at the end of this blog!

I hope that with this blog you’ve learned a lot of facts about Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking and his life in general.

There’s no doubt about the fact that Van Gogh’s artworks are eye-catching and breathtaking at the same time.

But, as soon as you understand their backstory, you get to know that all of them hinted towards Van Gogh’s degrading mental health.

Van Gogh was a person who found comfort in chaos and smoked all his pain till the time he went numb and, unfortunately, shot and took his own life.

There is a lot more to know about Van Gogh’s life and his art, whereas, most of them remain untouched.

Many of his artworks are now housed in some of the most prestigious museum collections.

As a matter of surprise, you can get your hands on some of the famous paintings by Van Gogh.

Now you may question how. To this end, I will say that you can get a replica made for yourself and get it delivered to your doorsteps! 

To learn more about it,

Author’s Epilogue

If you are still here, then thank you so much for staying till the end!

This was all about the painting of Skeleton Smoking by Van Gogh.

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See you soon; till then, stay hydrated!

Bye bye!


How many skulls has Van Gogh painted in his whole art career?

Van Gogh has painted a total of three skulls in his paintings, of which Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking has gained the most attention.

Why did Van Gogh paint a skull smoking a cigarette?

Van Gogh has painted a skull smoking a cigarette as he has tried to portray the concept of momento mori, or death.

Where is Van Gogh’s Skeleton smoking housed?

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is housed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Skeleton Smoking by Van Gogh’s is a part of which art movement or period?

Van Gogh’s Skeleton Smoking is a part of Post-Impressionism and Realism as well.

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