Title: Farmhouse in Provence
Who: Dutch Master Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Where: Outside the city of Arles, in the south of France, where Vincent van Gogh arrived in early 1888, escaping the winter cold of Paris. During the two years he resided in the French capital, Van Gogh lived with his younger brother Theo, who was an art dealer and supported Vincent during his career.
When: In the early summer, of 1888 when the fields were already glowing in the heat of the sun. His time in Arles, from February 1888 to May, 1889, would be Van Gogh’s most productive period, resulting in approximately 200 paintings and 100 drawings.
What: A local farm which Vincent depicted in both drawings and oil paintings. Van Gogh knew the surrounding landscape well, trekking daily from Arles into the countryside carrying his easel, canvases, and paints with him. For instance, in March and April the artist immortalized the awakening beauty of spring in his famous series of blossoming orchards. By June, though, he focused on the harvest and its impact on both the community and the land.
How: Shades of vibrant yellow and orange illuminate the painting: from the high grass filling the foreground, to a trio of recently gathered haystacks squeezed into the middle space, to the farmhouse itself standing in the background, on our left. Enhanced by the heavenly blue of the sky, animated by swirling clouds touched with white and pink, the latter color also highlighting the stone wall and even the trousers of the figure walking away from us. Van Gogh applies thick brushstrokes throughout the composition, particularly evident in the grass, the trees, as well as the combination of red and green, defining the flowers that grow near the entrance.
Why: Van Gogh’s respect for the peasants was universal, originating in his native Netherlands and continuing during his years in France. In Farmhouse in Provence, the artist has depicted one of them walking into the distance. Where is he going? Perhaps his tasks are done for the day and he is headed home, probably a much humbler dwelling than the gated property to our right.
Was Van Gogh perhaps commenting on the inequality experienced by one of Europe’s oldest class of workers, who tilled the soil for centuries and provided the foundation for the continent’s agricultural prosperity?
In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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