Vincent van Gogh: Green Wheat Fields, Auvers

Guest Blogger:  Emily

When Mrs. Rachel Lambert Mellon, the 103-year-old widow of millionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon, used to sit before the living room fireplace of her sprawling estate in Upperville, Virginia, she gazed at a 2×3 foot, exquisitely painted, and intimately unframed “pure landscape” by none other than Vincent van Gogh. Her eyes would feast on the impossibly valuable painting, entitled Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, which Vincent van Gogh finished in the spring of 1890, just months before his death in July. But recently, as part of a substantial gift that includes $75 million and precious works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, and van Gogh, Mrs. Mellon relinquished her ownership of Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, and presented it instead to the National Gallery of Art for public enjoyment.

Green Wheat Fields, Auvers

Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil painting. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Though the National Gallery of Art already has eight other van Gogh oil paintings, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers proves a priceless complement to the rest of the collection as a demonstration of van Gogh’s virtuoso brushwork and an exploration of his frame of mind just prior to his oft-examined death. Van Gogh painted his portrait of the rolling hills and sky while in voluntary treatment at an asylum in Saint-Rémy. Though van Gogh created Green Wheat Fields, Auvers during what is commonly thought of as the bleakest and most turbulent months of his career; his beautiful rendering of a windswept landscape offers a different perspective on this stage of his life. Van Gogh was undoubtedly depressed, as evidenced by his voluntary confinement and suicide, at age 37, just months later, but still extracted joy and wonder from the natural world. His clouds seem to curve and dance through the sky just above the luscious grass, which bends and waves in a frolicking spring breeze. The cool coloring of the sky and field- light greens and purples, complete with rich blues- radiate calmness, while small bursts of yellow in the flowers add an exuberant, hopeful touch to the work. Absent are the people, technology, and buildings that are the hallmarks of the society that so destroyed van Gogh; instead, the comforting presence of Mother Nature shines through, familiarly turning the dark dearth of winter into the bright vitality of spring. Despite his struggles with inner feelings of despair and inadequacy, coupled with his lack of professional success, van Gogh could not help being absorbed in the beauty of the Auvers landscapes, to which Green Wheat Fields, Auvers is a testament.

Daniele da Voterra: Michelangelo Buonarroti

Last week at this time I was in New York City with 48 students.  In the afternoon we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my very favorite places in the world.  After visiting the fascinating Silla exhibit (Korea’s Golden Kingdom), I made my annual pilgrimage to gallery 609.  There by the exit door hangs a portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti by Daniele da Volterra (Daniele Ricciarelli).

Michelangelo

Daniele da Volterra. Michelangelo Buonarroti. ca. 1545. Oil on wood. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gallery 609.

The portrait looks unfinished –  but is it?  Michelangelo’s left hand and head are fully painted and the rest of the painting has tints of brown with only small hints of form showing through the layers of paint.  The painting draws me in as Michelangelo looks at me no matter where I am in the room.  I feel I am connecting with him on some level.  The detailed painting technique that depicts his eyes, head and hand reflect the clarity and focus of his mind.  His hand reaches out as if he is extending his hand into my space.   The realism of his head, eyes, and hand together evoke a creative intensity that I feel he must have had for his own work.  I think that deep commitment to the creative process that I sense is why I admire this work of art.  I only wish that I can achieve that intensity in my own artwork.