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Vincent’s harvest landscape

04 Feb 2008 / in about art, Vincent van Gogh

I’ve been working on this painting Vincent’s harvest landscape since October and I’ve finally completed it:

It’s based on Vincent’s own painting Harvest landscape which he painted in July 1888:

His painting is such a joyous celebration of the landscape to the east of Arles and I find it deeply moving. I could dissect it for you and tell you about how it demonstrates his colour theories, how he has flattened the picture plane in the manner of a 19th century Japanese printmaker and how this landscape has such a massive impact on Vincent’s life. I could easily write a thesis on it! Instead, I chose to pay homage to it by making my own version of it, based on my thoughts and feelings when I was confronted with the reality of it.

This is the view today, from roughly where Vincent stood:


My starting point were the four main elements that can be found in Vincent’s composition that remain unchanged today; the line of the Alpilles mountains on the horizon, the Monte de Cordes, the Abbaye de Montmajour and the patchwork of fields. But I also wanted to include elements that I found fascinating – the fields of bulls and creamy-white Camargue horses, the egrets, the orange-roofed Provencal farmhouses, the lines of cypresses, vines and olive trees and the banks of reeds lining the canals.

As is my habit when creating composite landscapes, I also like to put in things with a symbolic meaning or which somehow say more than what they are.

The huge emperor moth, for example. When Vincent was staying at the asylum at St Remy, just on the other side of the Alpilles mountains, he found such a moth in the asylum garden. After Vincent lost his religious faith he found all the joy, mystery and meaning he needed in nature. His careful studies of the plants and animals he found, like his beautiful moth, are an expression of this.

In my picture I put a couple of bee-eaters, a commonly-sighted bird in that landscape. I noticed that their bright plumage is made up of the same colours as the landscape. I like the idea of seeing the landscape from a bee-eaters point-of-view flitting through the air, checking it all out like Vincent did.

But as I painted, it became more and more difficult to know how to finish the composition. Eventually after weeks of thinking about it, I took my cue from His Vincentness. I looked again at his works and then I put him in it.

I show Vincent on the road walking in on the far right,  just like in his drawing on the road to Tarascon the road he used to get to this landscape.

The reaper, busy at work in the centre of my pic, is symbolic of Vincent harvesting visual material from this landscape. And it’s a direct copy of his figure in this painting:


Vincent was obsessed with the reaper, grim or otherwise. For him a reaper meant bounty and harvest, but also the romantic toil of honest peasant labourers, as well as its biblical connotations of death. Vincent was never fully able to shrug off the baggage of his religious upbringing. But he was aware of the power of christian iconography and used its symbolism to add meaning to his work. In his letters Vincent often said that he went to work in the fields, just like the labourers did. He also predicted his work would save him or kill him. He was right. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear it did both.

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