The Story Behind the Exuberant Spring Landscape Van Gogh Painted Just Weeks After Cutting His Ear – Art Newspaper | WHs Answers

As the spring blooms enliven our landscape, it is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s work in Provence, where he portrayed her fleeting beauty. Just weeks after the trauma of slitting his ear, he painted one of his most lyrical landscapes, Peach trees in bloom. This impressive image is in the Courtauld Gallery in London.

Vincent first mentioned working on the picture in early April 1889 in a letter to his brother Theo: “Right now I have on the easel an orchard of peach trees beside a road with the Alpilles in the background.”

Van Gogh’s sketch of Peach trees in bloomin a letter to Paul Signac, April 10, 1889. © Signac Archives, Paris

A week later he wrote to his artist friend Paul Signac, enclosing a sketch of the painting: “Green landscape with cottage, blue line of the Alpilles, white and blue sky. The foreground, enclosure with reed hedges, where peach trees are blooming – all there smallthe gardens, the fields, the gardens, the trees, even those mountains, like in certain Japanese landscapes, so I was drawn to that theme.”

Detail from Van Gogh’s Peach trees in bloomwith the Alpilles. © Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Gallery, London

Peach trees in bloom was painted on the outskirts of Arles, on a path near several farms and with a distant view of the Alpilles (the Little Alps). Along the crest, Van Gogh inserted a symmetrically shaped, snow-capped mountain that seems to echo the outline of the sacred peak of Mount Fuji – a common feature of Japanese landscape prints. A fine example is one with a flower in Utagawa Hiroshige’s series Thirty-six views of Mount Fujia print owned by Van Gogh.

Utagawa Hiroshiges The outskirts of Koshigaya in Musashi Province (1858), from the series Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. © Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Van Gogh added another Japanese print to the background of his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (January 1889), which dates back a little over two months Peach trees in bloom. He slightly modified the composition of the print, emphasizing Mount Fuji as a prominent feature.

Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (January 1889), which includes in the background his version of a Japanese print published by Sato Torakiyo, Geishas in a landscape (1870s), with Mount Fuji. © Samuel Courtauld Trust, Courtauld Gallery, London

The Alpilles only rise to a height of 500m, so it would be highly unusual for snow to fall in April, let alone remain unmelted on a sunny day. As Van Gogh hinted in his letter to Signac, the snow-capped peak pays homage to Japan. He was also aware of the Japanese love of flowering trees when he set out to capture the Provençal scene.

Working quickly with thick impasto paint, Van Gogh turned around Peach trees in bloom in a fresh spring landscape. Looking at this confident painting, it’s hard to understand that he was in a confused state of mind.

Van Gogh had suffered from three separate periods of mental instability since his ear was mutilated on December 23, 1888. Due to his fragile condition, he was still sleeping in the overcrowded men’s ward at Arles Hospital, despite being at work during the daytime hours in April. He had limited access to his painting supplies and personal belongings, which were in the Yellow House at the other end of Arles.

Despite all these challenges, Van Gogh remained optimistic and determined to move on. You can break an arm or a leg and it will heal, Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, “but I didn’t know you could break your brain and it got better after that”.

Van Gogh’s Pink peach trees (March-April 1888. © Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Spring has always been an inspiration for Van Gogh. A year earlier he had painted a close-up of peach trees (one of the two trees is almost hidden behind the one in front). Vincent described Pink peach trees to Theo: “A plowed field of lilacs, a reed fence – two pink peach trees against a wonderful blue and white sky. Probably the best scenery I’ve ever done.”

Speaking of 1889 Peach trees in bloom along with the Alpilles, it was acquired by the only collector known to have bought any of Van Gogh’s paintings during his lifetime.

Anna Boch, a Belgian artist, had bought The Red Vineyard in March 1890. A year later, after Van Gogh’s death, she paid 350 francs (£14 at the time) for Peach trees in bloom. Her two Van Goghs were illustrated by the German art historian Julius Meier-Graefe in one of the artist’s earliest books.

Julius Meier-Graefe’s illustration of the two Van Goghs by Anna Boch, landscape (Peach trees in bloom) and grape harvest (The Red Vineyard). © development history of modern art, volume III, Stuttgart, 1904

Peach trees in bloom was bought in 1927 by the London textile manufacturer Samuel Courtauld, who paid £9,000. He hung the painting above the fireplace in the Etruscan Room of his impressive townhouse in London’s Portman Square.

1935 Peach trees in bloom was exhibited in a most unusual place: the Community Hall at Silver End in Essex. This was for a project called Art for the People. As the organizers explained: “Most of England’s smaller towns have no art galleries and their residents rarely have the opportunity to see works of art.” It therefore felt that great art should be brought out of the cities and into the local areas.

Exactly in the month that Peach trees in bloom hung in Silver End Town Hall, Courtauld took a drive through the English countryside. While enjoying the spring landscape, he remembered his painting. As he wrote to his close friend Lady Aberconway: “The journey through Kent was beautiful: the bright green grass and blossoming fruit trees, the freshly washed sky and the water sparkling everywhere reminded me of the landscape of Van Gogh.”

Now a highlight of the Courtauld Gallery collection, Peach trees in bloom was recently re-exhibited in the newly refurbished Great Room – a great setting for his Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. It can be seen together with the exhibition until May 8th Van Gogh self-portraits.

More Van Gogh news:

On April 25, Christie’s New York will auction a fragment of biblical texts online copied by Van Gogh in the autumn of 1876 when he was a teacher in Isleworth, a west London village. It begins with an English line from Corinthians (“Though I speak with tongues of men…”). Van Gogh originally wrote six pages of various lyrics in an album for Annie Slade-Jones, with whom he was staying.

Biblical text, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, transcribed into an album for Annie Slade-Jones, Fall 1876. © Christies

Unfortunately, in the 1980s the album was dismembered and the pages cut into fragments. The piece, now at Christie’s, comes from the collection of Maurice Sendak, the American writer and illustrator of children’s books who died in 2012. The text fragment is less than 3 inches high and is estimated at $15,000 to $25,000.

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