Arts Everyday Living: Van Gogh and the Flowers of Spring—The Irises of Southern France

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, Saint-Remy-de-Porvence, May, 1890, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation), Netherlands

Title: Irises, 1890

Artist: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)



When: In May, 1890, and is considered one of Van Gogh’s late works of art; near the end of  a career of only 10 years, resulting in an astonishing number of approximately 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings.

Where: At a mental institution in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in southern France, only weeks before his release on May 16 after a year’s stay. His final destination would be Auvers-sur-Oise (close to Paris), the site of his death on July 29, 1890.

What: The blossoms of spring including at least two paintings of irises: the version pictured above plus another interpretation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

A Puzzling Display: Irises are elegant flowers yet Vincent has squeezed them into an earthen vase, too small to contain them. Emphazing the complexity of their forms as they push against each other, moving in different directions. Extending both upward and down in what could be described as an almost chaotic arrangement. However, the artist’s choice of colors does bring some sense of harmony, even though the original purple tones have now changed with time to blue,* they still combine well with the range of yellows. While curving green stalks weave in and out generally adding stability to the overall composition, although a few are beginning to droop or wilt  in the lower right corner of the painting.

From Paris to southern France: Van Gogh has a long history of creating floral beauty: from his not as well known Parisian bouquets, influenced by the artist’s recent adapting of the rich Impressionist palette, to the iconic canvases of the sunflowers, inspired by his friend and colleague Paul Gauguin, to the graceful irises in the garden of the asylum at Saint-Remy, where he spent many hours.

*According to the Vincent van Gogh Museum






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