During his time at Saint-Paul-de-Mauso (a mental asylum) at Saint-Rémy, Vincent van Gogh painted a series of scenes involving either wheat fields or cypresses.
On occasion, this focus involved both of the themes, and that is the case with the aptly named Wheatfield with Cypresses. The painting marks a hard time in van Gogh's life. This was the famous period in which he mutilated his own ear, and only a few months before he shot himself and died of a subsequent infection. It is surprising, therefore, to notice how many of his paintings of the time are completely full of life. In this particular painting it is possible to imagine the wheatfield rippling with warm wind, rustling the leaves on the cypress tree.
The sky is a rolling impression of bright blue and grey clouds, and there is nothing static about anything in the scene. Somehow despite being in a dark depression and a thoroughly unstable mental state, Vincent van Gogh continued to produce beautiful, lively paintings full of colour and movement unlike any other. There is more than one version of this scene; something about it stuck with van Gogh, making him eager to paint it exactly as he intended, resulting in multiple attempts. In this late stage of his life he became fascinated with cypresses, as they represented to him the upright splendor of an Egyptian obelisk. Salvador Dali used obelisks on the back of elephants in several surrealist paintings.
With the combination of the bright, golden wheat and the movement of the sky, the heat of the imagined scene almost lifts off the canvas. It appears (due to letters to van Gogh's brother, Theo) that he intended this to be the case, and may have even been the reason he repeated the painting until it was how he intended it to be. Unlike some of his paintings, the cypress in this one is not cut off near the top; it is possible to view the entire tree, and it is an interesting contrast to the more delicate olive trees nearer the foreground. Vincent van Gogh produced some of his most memorable work while living in the asylum. Despite his struggles he proved with paintings such as this one that he was destined for greatness.
Hi, I'm Tom!
I'm the writer and founder of TheHistoryOfArt.org. I have studied different art movements for over 15 years, and am also an amateur artist myself! Read my bio here.