Skull With A Burning Cigarette, also known as Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette has to be one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most curious works. When I think of Van Gogh art, I usually think of his famous Starry Night or one of his many colorful landscape paintings. But as far as his artwork goes, you can say that this one was “out of character” of sorts.

Skull With A Burning Cigarette, has been described by some in the past as macabre and dark, even disturbing. But to me, I always saw it as tongue in cheek or even sarcastic. In my opinion, it looks very “Rock Culture.” I can even picture someone like Slash or some other rocker wearing it on a t-shirt. Or I can even see it used today as part of some anti-smoking campaign. But of course, I’m coming from a 21st Century perspective. One can only guess what people thought of this piece when it was created in the late 1800’s.

The painting is undated but it’s believed to be painted in the winter of 1885–86 as a humorous comment by Van Gogh on the conservative academic practices at the school he was attending, an assumption based on the fact that Van Gogh was in Antwerp at that time, attending classes at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium. This was his way at laughing at these art classes that he found extremely boring.

Today, the painting is part of the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. And I hope to see it there one day.

–Roz Abellera


  1. Josh Glover says:

    This is probably my favourite piece of Van Gogh’s work, I wa totally unaware of it until I visited Amsterdam and couldn’t help but purchase a small print of it. Before that if I thought of Van Gogh I would picture his Sunflowers that are in the National Gallery here in London, now I envision this piece when thinking of him.

    • I saw it a few times before I found out it was a Van Gogh. It looks so different from his other work. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was his. This really shows how versatile he was as an artist and painter.

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