Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette

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Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette
Dutch: Kop van een skelet met brandende sigaret
A skeleton, turned 45 degrees to the right and rendered only from shoulders and above.  The skull clenches a lit cigarette between its teeth.  The painting is rendered in somber tones of ivory, brown, and black, in thick yet detailed brushstrokes that reveal the texture of the canvas in places.
Artist Vincent van Gogh
Year c. 1885–86
Catalogue F212
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 32 cm × 24.5 cm (13 in × 9.6 in)
Location Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Coordinates 52°21′31″N 4°52′53″E / 52.35854°N 4.881319°E / 52.35854; 4.881319Coordinates: 52°21′31″N 4°52′53″E / 52.35854°N 4.881319°E / 52.35854; 4.881319

Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette (Dutch: Kop van een skelet met brandende sigaret) is an undated painting by Vincent van Gogh, part of the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.[1] It was probably painted in the winter of 1885–86 as a humorous comment on conservative academic practices,[1] an assumption based on the fact that Van Gogh was in Antwerp at that time, attending classes at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, classes he would later say were boring and taught him nothing.[2]

In 2008, the painting was used by graphic designer Chip Kidd on the first edition cover for When You Are Engulfed in Flames, a collection of essays written by David Sedaris. Sedaris is said to have been "fascinated with the image" after seeing it on a postcard during a trip to Amsterdam.[2]

Related works[edit]

In 1887–88,[citation needed] van Gogh painted two more paintings with skulls, the only other works of his (besides a drawing from the same period) to use skulls as a motif.[2]

Skull (1887/1888)
Skull (1887/1888)


  1. ^ a b "Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1886". Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved 2013-05-19. This curious and somewhat macabre little painting is undated. It was probably executed in the winter of 1885–86, during Van Gogh’s stay in Antwerp....This skull with a cigarette was likely meant as a kind of joke, and probably also as a comment on conservative academic practice. 
  2. ^ a b c Bundrick, Sheramy (June 14, 2008). "Memento Mori or Just a Joke?". Van Gogh's Chair (blog). Retrieved 2013-05-19. [H]is letters and anecdotes from others record that he sparred with his drawing and painting teachers and was scornful of conservative academic practice. His time at the Academy lasted only weeks; he felt he was learning nothing and later proclaimed academic training "damned boring". Taken from that perspective, 'Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette' could be read as a thumbing-of-the-nose at 'the establishment.' 

External links[edit]