The Pollarded Willow and Setting Sun and Other Landscapes of Vincent Van Gogh

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During Vincent Van Gogh’s lifespan, numerous paintings depicting the scene just outside of a window to his studio were created. An early example and a painting made most famous by its theft in 1999 is “The Pollard Willow” originally finished in 1885 before Van Gogh left his birthplace and home in the Netherlands for France.

The painting, depicting a row of pollard willows in autumn lining a dirt road opposite of a barely visible brick wall was stolen and thought lost for seven years before being found in March of 2006. The painting is a major step in Van Gogh’s progression as an artist as can be seen in his later works painted in the home he shared with Guaguin in Arles and during his stint in Saint-Remy.

The Pollarded Willow and Setting Sun, painted in 1888, during the final months of Van Gogh’s stay in Arles, currently sits in the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. During the final months spent with Gaugin in Arles, Van Gogh had begun to rethink his approach to Impressionism, still utilizing similar techniques but creating series of paintings similar to those painted in Nuenen before he left the Netherlands.

After leaving Arles in 1889, Van Gogh committed himself to the Saint-Remy-de-Provence Asylum where he painted many of his most prolific masterpieces. While paintings such as Starry Night were painted largely from memory, consisting of swirls and circular patterns, he began a series of paintings reminiscent of those he worked on in Arles depicting the wheat field visible from Van Gogh’s window in the Asylum.

The field was enclosed by the walls of the asylum, on the opposite side of which rose a small hill and farmlands with olive groves and Van Gogh’s cypresses. During Van Gogh’s eleven month stay between June of 1889 and May of 1890, he recorded the same scene numerous times. His images included paintings of the field after a storm in Wheat Field under Threatening Skies, with a reaper, and with corn freshly grown in the fall. Images such as Wheat Field at Sunrise and White Field with Cypress by Vincent Van Gogh are considered masterpieces and have been used in popular culture repeatedly. Tom Cruise’s mind bending Vanilla Sky uses Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, Yellow Wheat and Cypress as a device not only for the naming of the film but for the impressionist aspects of the plot.

Even after leaving Saint-Remy, Van Gogh continued to paint similar pieces depicting wheat fields and trees. Van Gogh’s painting of crows, Wheat Field with Crows, painted in Auvers-sur-Oise was one of the final pieces completed before taking his own life. The painting famously depicts a flock of crows rising into the night sky from a brightly lit field. The contrast of light and dark and the ascension of such a malicious cloud is a suitable conveyance of Van Gogh’s ever shifting moods during this time period. Repeatedly, Van Gogh quoted his use of trees and fields as an extension of his study of life, as displayed in his famous Sunflowers series.

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