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.”
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.