Friday, July 8, 2011

Art Review - Van Gogh Landscape

This was written for a history class in 2011.... a review of a Van Gogh painting that hangs in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (I got an "A" on it!)

Van Gogh, Landscape at Saint-Rémy (Enclosed Field with Peasant), 1889, oil on canvas

While standing and looking at the Paul Cezanne painting that hung in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, my eye caught the upper corner of this painting and I immediately recognized Van Gogh’s distinctive “Starry Night” style of painting. Totally ignoring our tour guide, I walked over to be mesmerized by seeing my first Van Gogh in person.

The oil on canvas painting, Enclosed Field with Peasant, also known as Landscape at Saint-Remy, was done in 1889 while Van Gogh was voluntarily in an asylum in the town of Saint-Remy after a Christmas Eve 1888 breakdown after a visit by his friend, Paul Gauguin and when Van Gogh subsequently cut off his ear.

This painting, one of four in a series of views of the field, was not commissioned but was just one of about 150 paintings that Van Gogh did while in the asylum, looking out over the countryside. Most of Van Gogh’s paintings were not commissioned.

There is debate on how many paintings Van Gogh actually sold or was commissioned to paint, but I could only find where two were in the “maybe” column. Nursery on the Schenkweg was commissioned in 1882 by his uncle, the art dealer C. M. Van Gogh. The other painting, The Red Vineyard is mythed to have been commissioned but there is still debate on this one.

The painting is a landscape of just outside the asylum walls, painted shortly after Van Gogh left the hospital. It almost comes alive with the manic brushstrokes that seems to have the fields rising toward the mountains. “At the center, a peasant carries a bundle of straw, a symbol of the cycles of life” that fascinated Van Gogh. “The "peasant genre" that greatly influenced van Gogh began in the 1840s with the works of Jean-Francois Millet, Jules Breton, and others. In 1885 van Gogh described the painting of peasants as the most essential contribution to modern art.”

In this painting, alluding to the strength of nature ranging from the low valley wheat field to the towering mountains, it is the symbolic peasant in the center who is shown to tame the elements and harvesting their bounty of wheat. It shows the landscape of the French countryside and depicts the manual process of harvest in the late 1800s.

Van Gogh’s use of bold strokes and bright colors lead some to consider him an expressionist style yet some merely regard him as an influence to the expressionist style that came along at the beginning of the 20th century, prior to World War I. Because of Van Gogh’s fascination with the peasant genre and the symbolism of the mild peasant against the raging forces of nature, I’d say this is an idealized painting.

Edited to add:  Visit for more information on Van Gogh.

References used for this article.....

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