Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gardens in Art: Drawings and Paintings by Van Gogh

Flowering Garden with Path
Vincent Van Gogh
(Arles July 1888)
Oil on canvas, 72 x 91cm,

I've very much enjoyed doing the research for images, information and links about the drawings and paintings Van Gogh made of gardens - both public and private. He seems to have made gardens one of his prime and enduring motifs for experimenting with mark-making and drawing in both monochrome and colour.

This is the letter to Theo in which he writes about the painting above. It includes a sketch although this is the drawing "Garden with Flowers" (1888) which preceded this painting. He describe it in a letter to his sister thus..
I have a study of a garden one meter wide, poppies and other red flowers surrounded by green in the foreground, and a square of bluebells. Then a bed of orange and yellow Africans, then white and yellow flowers, and at last, in the background, pink and lilac, and also dark violet scabriosas, and red geraniums, and sunflowers, and a fig tree and an oleander and a vine. And in the distance black cypresses against low white houses with orange roofs – and a delicate green-blue streak of sky.

Oh, I know very well that not a single flower is drawn completely, that they are more dabs of colour, red, yellow, orange, green blue, violet, but the impression of all these colours in their juxtaposition is there all right, in the painting as in nature. But I suppose you would be disappointed, and think it unbeautiful, if you saw it. But you see that the subject is rather summery.
Van Gogh - Letter to Wilhelmina Van Gogh 31 July 1888
Gardens are identified as a favourite motif of van Gogh by the author of the book produced to accompany the great exhibition of Van Gogh Drawings which took place in New York and Amsterdam in 2005.
The small areas of planned nature to be found in villages and towns greatly attracted Van Gogh. Wherever he worked, he made pictures of gardens and parks and in Arles they were one of his favourite subjects. He cherished strongly poetic feelings towards these places..........

...His series of parks and gardens (in Arles, drawn between August-October 1888) starts with the impressive view of gardens that he sent to his brother in August. the lush vegetation, depicted with a broad range of pen strokes, makes the summer heat seem almost palpable in these scenes....

In September he often worked in in the park near his house and studio, better known as the 'Yellow house'
Van Gogh - The Master Draughtsman Sjraar van Heughten
Over time, Van Gogh drew and painted quite a few gardens - and they varied in style and colour as his location changed and his style progressed and refined.

Here are some on-line sources of information - there's lots more to look at for those who are interested:
Early drawings of gardens

Early drawings tend to be of cottages in the flat landscape of Holland. The gardens are bleak and brown - and it always seems to be winter for some reason. Examples include drawings such as Parsonage Garden (1884) (and associated painting), another more detailed drawing of the same subject and the painting of The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the snow.

Gardens in Provence

Cottage Garden, 1888
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890)
Reed pen, quill, and ink over graphite on wove paper;
61 x 49 cm (24 x 19 1/4 in.)
Private Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art - Vincent Van Gogh - the Drawings

Drawings and paintings changed in a dramatic way when he arrived in Provence.

One of the images I find most attractive is his reed pen and ink drawing of the Cottage Garden in Arles (note the size!).

You can see the painting he did of the same view here. Personally, I find the drawing to be the more attractive image of the two.
The little cottage garden done vertically is, I think, the best of the three big ones. The one with the sunflowers is a little garden of a bathing establishment, the third garden, horizontal, is the one from which I made some painted studies as well.
Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to his brother Theo, 8 August 1888 Arles
Garden of a Bathhouse is also delightful and is another reed pen and ink drawing - this time of a bed of sunflowers. It's thought that these are the sunflowers which then generated the paintings of sunflowers done in anticipation of Gauguin's visit.

Judith Bumpus in her book "Impressionist Gardens" includes a double page feature on The Garden of the Poets (1888) by Van Gogh.

This painting is of the public garden opposite the Yellow House in Arles - the 'Studio of the South'. It became a motif amongst his garden paintings and he does a lot of preliminary drawings of specific trees and bushes within the park. Here is a letter in which he writes about it - together with a facsimile of the letter which includes a preliminary sketch and the finished painting.

Vincent Van Gogh
Arles, mid-September 1888
Oil on canvas, 73 x 92.1 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.433

He invests the garden with great meaning and context. The title is explained in a letter to Theo dated 17th September 1888

Some time ago I read an article on Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Giotto and Botticelli. Good Lord! it did make an impression on me reading the letters of those men.

And Petrarch lived quite near here in Avignon, and I am seeing the same cypresses and oleanders.

I have tried to put something of that into one of the pictures painted in a very thick impasto, citron yellow and lime green. Giotto moved me most - always in pain, and always full of kindness and enthusiasm, as though he were already living in a different world from ours.

And besides, Giotto is extraordinary. I understand him better than the poets Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Letter from Vincent to Theo, 17th September 1888

Gardens in Auvers (1890)

During his time in Auvers, he painted the garden of fellow artist Daubigny a number of times. One version is now in the Hiroshima Museum of Art - but can be seen here.

The Asylum Garden - Saint-Rémy (1889-90)

Trees with ivy in the asylum garden, 1889
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Reed pen and pen in ink (now brown), pen on cream wove paper,
62 x 47 cm Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Towards the end of his life many of the drawings and paintings were of the garden of the asylum at St Remy in Provence where Van Gogh stayed when ill.

The Van Gogh Museum website comments on the therapy of painting during the year he spent at the asylum
Van Gogh converts an adjacent cell into a studio, and although subject to intermittent attacks, he produces 150 paintings during the year he stays at Saint-Rémy. His doctor initially confines him to the immediate asylum grounds, so Van Gogh paints the world he sees from his room, deleting the bars that obscure his view. In the asylum's walled garden he paints irises, lilacs, and ivy-covered trees. Later he is allowed to venture farther afield, and he paints the wheatfields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside. The imposed regimen of asylum life gives Vincent a hard-won stability: "I feel happier here with my work than I could be outside. By staying here a good long time, I shall have learned regular habits and in the long run the result will be more order in my life."
Van Gogh Museum
Here are links to a few of those paintings. If you click on the image you can often see a section of a much enlarged image - which enables you to see the brushwork up close.
  • Trees and Shrubs in the Asylum Garden () is a wonderful graphic drawing (47 x 62 cm) done using a brush and thinned oils and ink (now brown), black chalk on wove paper. Due to the transparency of the inks, using the enlarger you can see the initial marks and guides made on the paper followed by the individual marks made in different colours which build up the whole.
  • The Garden of the Hospital (the fall of the leaves) (1889) This particular composition has a high vantage point - as if done from a window of a room in a building - probably from the room used as his studio. It's a reminder that we don't need to go outside to draw and paint gardens.
  • The Garden of St Paul's Hospital (1889)
Another Squidoo lens - Vincent Van Gogh

This is probably a good post to introduce you to another new squidoo lens which is going to be the home for and a way of organising all the Vincent Van Gogh links I've found while studying his work. I've still not managed to include all those from the project on his drawings which I understook in February but they should all be included in the near future - plus the ones from this and other recent posts.

The name of the new lens is Vincent Van Gogh - Resources for Art Lovers and the address of new lens is . I'll be talking some more about this and other new squidoo lenses in a future post.



  1. another great post :)

    A lot of his slightly less known work is wonderful and I'm really glad you included his drawings - they have a fantastic range of marks and squiggles and expressive lines.

    I saw some lovely drawings of his at Compton Verney last year.

  2. Thank you for this re-immersion into the master's world. The one thing that strikes me is his compositional strength. The Garden at Auvers and the resulting painting are equally well composed.
    I wonder if I might have to revisit the old fellow? He seems to be a little restless in that plot...


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of the amount of spam and copying of my blog posts which is taking place. Removing them is taking too much time.
Please feel free to comment about the blog on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there but please note
1) anonymous comments are NEVER published
2) automated / spam / scam comments are never ever published on this blog
3) I ALWAYS block and report spammers to Google and/or on Facebook

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.