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.


Vincent Van Gogh

The Washington Post reports that a Vincent Van Gogh painting has been authenticated.  The painting has spent the last 60 years in an attic in Norway.  The last time a Van Gogh painting was authenticated was 85 years ago.  The painting is Sunset at Montmajour.  The painting depicts Southern France, Arles, and was around the same time as Sunflowers and The Yellow House.

As I was reading this article, I realized that there is so much we don’t know about so many artists. Authenticating works like this Van Gogh is like finding a piece to a puzzle.  The puzzle is Van Gogh’s creative journey.  The creative process is complicated and very personal.  The artwork (along with other primary resources) is a tool to help us to understand the artist on a deeper level.  When we can study how the artist experimented with technique and content, we can begin to understand the artist’s journey.    Van Gogh might not have considered this a great work but it helps art historians to understand his creative journey.   When we think of Van Gogh’s process rather than the product, the artist becomes a human being and in turn we can relate to the artist whether we are also an artist, an art historian or one who appreciates and loves art.  So when a museum has a retrospective exhibit on one artist, go to the exhibit because this is your chance to begin to understand the artist’s creative journey.