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The surroundings of Saint-Rémy

As in Vincent’s time, there are still places where olive trees still grow everywhere in the vicinity of Saint-Rémy.

Van Gogh in


Olive trees, along with mountain landscapes and cypresses, usually served as subject matter for Vincent once he was able to paint outside the grounds of the asylum in early June 1889. He had been drawn to olive trees since Arles but had not yet ventured out to paint them:

“…that’s to say the murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old about it. It’s too beautiful for me to dare paint it or be able to form an idea of it.” Read the complete letter

Vincent compared the olive’s and cypress’s “importance” in France with that of the willow in the Netherlands. He was surprised that artists so seldomly painted the distinctive, picturesque trees that were so characteristic of Provence. In the summer of 1889, in Saint-Rémy, he took up the artistic challenge of painting them in Saint-Rémy and wrote in September 1889:

“On the other hand the olive trees are very characteristic, and I’m struggling to capture that. It’s silver, sometimes more blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed, whitening on ground that is yellow, pink, purplish or orangeish to dull red ochre. But very difficult, very difficult.” Read the complete letter

He threw himself into the subject over the subsequent months. In his own words, he“[had] a really good go at”the olive trees Read the complete letter. And, he was relatively satisfied with the results of his labours. In December, however, Vincent had another mental breakdown that left him unable to work outside. He stayed in his studio at the asylum, copying works by artists such as Jean-François Millet. He was unable to continue his series of orchard paintings. His brother Theo must have been sorry to hear this; he wrote to Vincent in January:

“Do you know that when I saw your olive trees again, I found them more and more beautiful, the one with the sunset is especially superb.” Read the complete letter

Relevant letters from Vincent

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  1. Vojtēch Jirat-Wasiutyński

    Vincent van Gogh's paintings of olive trees and cypresses from St.-Rémy
    In: The Art Bulletin, vol. 75, no. 4, 1993
  2. Ronald Pickvance

    Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers
    New York, 1986
  3. Marije Vellekoop, Roelie Zwikker

    Vincent van Gogh, tekeningen, deel 4: Arles, Saint-Rémy, Auvers-sur-Oise
    Amsterdam, 2007