Vincent van Gogh – Green Wheat Fields, Auvers (1890)

After having a severe nervous breakdown during which he cuts his own ear and being institutionalized in an asylum for a year, Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh moves to northern France, to Auvers-sur-Oise, to start afresh. He was hoping that his mental frailty was a consequence of the strong impressions and strident colors of Arles and that Auvers would heal him, as he confessed in this May 25, 1890 letter to his brother, Theo: “I still believe that it’s above all an illness of the south that I caught, and that the return here will be enough to dispel all that”.

The colors, the luxurious flora and the mixture of old and new fascinated him, as he was witnessing an environment in full metamorphosis: “That in an almost lush countryside, just at this moment of the development of a new society in the old one, has nothing disagreeable about it; there’s a lot of well-being in the air. I see or think I see a calm there à la Puvis de Chavannes, no factories, but beautiful greenery in abundance and in good order.”

Vincent van Gogh - Green Wheat Fields, Auvers
Vincent van Gogh – Green Wheat Fields, Auvers (1890), oil on canvas

The lush nature and the sense of calm and well-being were beautifully rendered in Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, one of his paintings during that time.  The undulating lines of the landscape rippling in the wheat grass, the clouds and on the road to the right, offer a soothing comfort, enhanced by the green and blue hues. This harmony of colors, accentuated by the yellow dashes suggesting light and flowers, is what gives the landscape a palpable sense of freshness – crisp and invigorating. The road, the wheat field and the sky, all meet at a point on the extreme right, like a fan unfurling.

The paint was applied in thick layers, Van Gogh’s signature impasto, which adds texture and an underlying energy and vibrancy to the painting. The short and energetic brushstrokes in the grass stalks are signaling the presence of the wind; as are the passing clouds, inflated and liquefied by long swirls.

In a way, the painting indicates what could have been, if Van Gogh’s hopes for a new start had materialized. Sadly, he couldn’t dwell on the calmness and the harmony that the Auvers countryside had to offer. Two months later, in July 1890, the Dutch artist took his own life at the age of 37.

17 thoughts on “Vincent van Gogh – Green Wheat Fields, Auvers (1890)

  1. “inflated and liquefied by long swirls.” Your writing is as illustrative and imaginative as van Gogh’s work. I love it. I visited Auvers-sur-Oise when I was in Europe. Idyllic was the only word I could come up with to describe it. The sky is so big there, and he was always able to translate that vastness.

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  2. Apparently Van Gogh’s use of thick paint was facilitated by his brothers’ supplying him with the paints. Gauguin was always trying to make his paint last as long as possible. Finance affects art as well as temperament!

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    1. Van Gogh was starving while asking for more paint/money from Theo, making a conscious trade off. I don’t know what he would have done without his brother’s help.

      Necessity is truly the mother of invention, I was reading that John Atkinson Grimshaw developed new techniques to dry the paint faster and use less of it, because he was struggling financially: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/apr/17/john-atkinson-grimshaw-exhibition-harrogate

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  3. A marvelous painting. What amazes me is that he created his own distinct reality in paint. The Expressionists tried to copy him and out-express him, but in my mind never succeeded. He’s infused his landscape with himself in it, even though he’s nowhere to be seen. It is his unique vision of the landscape that he’s managed to capture. We see through his eyes. Very few artists have ever achieved such a thing.

    As for his cut ear, there’s some speculation that Gauguin might have cut it, because the injury happened the night Gauguin left Arles for good, and he fought with Vincent and was carrying a saber. One theory has it that Vincent was covering for him. There’s a similar theory about his fatal shooting, which is explored in the movie, “Loving Vincent”, which, by the way, is the ONE movie about an artist I’ve seen that I actually loved.

    Incidentally, you may find my painterly tribute to Vincent of some amusement. I dared to paint a Van Gogh self-portrait with cut ear, er, digitally, and impasto: https://bit.ly/2HdxCFJ

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    1. It’s a great tribute, Eric. So vibrant and modern, and yet… quintessential Van Gogh. I have heard many theories about the fight with Gauguin and about the reason(s) of his suicide, and I’ve only grown more skeptical. I find it really bizarre that they remained on speaking terms after that dramatic night. And if Gauguin did it, why would he still flee Arles? I gotta say, I rather like the mystery and the controversy around this episode.

      I’ll be sure to watch “Loving Vincent”, I’ve heard only good things about it. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  4. Simply amazing to see how Van Gogh was able to express so many variations on his moods and apprehension of the world with one repeated landscape. I love the freshness of colors in this one, the sense of exhilaration that, no matter what, nothing will mess up this day. But then, you have surely read about Wheatfield with Crows. Regardless of it being Vincent’s very last painting or not, the mood is more than somber, the perspective inverted and the roads blocked while the crows circle menacingly. Hard to beat the sheer power of color expression he left us. Thank you as ever for bringing wonderful works and analysis to all of us, Gabriela.

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    1. Thank you so much for your insightful comment, Ingrid. It’s true, Van Gogh surely painted wheat fields a lot, culminating with his last piece, Wheatfield with Crows. But you never get the sense of repetition because they vary so much from one to the next, depending on his mood and his surroundings. What is peculiar about “Green Wheat Field, Auvers” is also the fact that there are no people or fauna around, which for me makes it all the more peaceful and refreshing.

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