VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
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VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)

Coin de jardin avec papillons

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Coin de jardin avec papillons
oil on canvas
19 ¾ x 24 ¼ in. (50.4 x 61.4 cm.)
Painted in May-July 1887
Theo van Gogh, Paris.
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam (by descent from the above).
Vincent Willem van Gogh, Amsterdam (by descent from the above).
Galerie Eugène Druet, Paris.
Joseph Reinach, Paris.
Lily Reinach-Goujon, Paris (by descent from the above, circa 1921).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the family of the above, 1987).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998.
Letter from V. van Gogh to T. van Gogh, circa 25 March 1888.
J.-B. de la Faille, L’œuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1928, vol. I, no. 460 (illustrated, vol. II; dated August 1888).
W. Scherjon and J. de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh’s Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, Complete Catalogue, Amsterdam, 1937, p. 194, no. 186 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, London, 1939, p. 486, no. 704 (illustrated; dated 1889).
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1970, p. 208, no. F 460 (illustrated; dated spring 1889).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1980, p. 387, no. 1676 (illustrated; dated April 1889).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Arles February 1888Auvers-sur-Oise, July 1890, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 498 (illustrated; dated April 1889 and titled Grass and Butterflies).
E. Hendricks and L. van Tilborgh, Nieuwe visies op Van Goghs ontwikkeling in Antwerpen en Parijs: Een geïntegreerde technische en kunsthistorische studie van zijn schilderijen in het Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2006, p. 35 (illustrated, fig. 5).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh: Die Gemälde 1886-1890, Händler, Sammler, Ausstellungen, Die Frühe Provenienzen, Wädenswil, 2009, p. 93 (illustrated in color).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Arles, 1888-1889, London, 2009, vol. 4, letter 589, pp. 34 and 36, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 36).
E. Hendricks and L. van Tilborgh, Vincent van Gogh Paintings: Antwerp & Paris, 1885-1888, Amsterdam, 2011, vol. 2, pp. 47-49, no. 12 (illustrated in color, p. 47; titled Butterflies).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh: The Years in France, Complete Paintings, 1886-1890, Dealers, Collectors, Exhibitions, Provenance, London, 2013, pp. 282, 290 and 342, no. F 460 (illustrated in color, p. 95).
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, Vincent van Gogh, February-March 1960, p. 34, no. 55 (dated 1889 and titled Coin de Jardin).
The Art Institute of Chicago and Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, September 2001-June 2002, pp. 275 and 408, no. 114 (illustrated in color, p. 274, no. 22; dated circa May 1889 and titled Butterflies and Flowers).
Brescia, Museo di Santa Giulia, Gauguin, Van Gogh: L'avventura del color nuovo, October-March 2006.
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum and New York, Neue Galerie, Van Gogh en het expressionisme, November 2006-July 2007.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, January-April 2010, p. 100, no. 50 (illustrated in color, pp. 100-101).
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Ottowa, National Gallery of Canada, Van Gogh: Up Close, January-September 2012, p. 270, no. 30 (dated 1887-1889 and titled Grasses and Butterflies).
Denver Art Museum, Becoming Van Gogh, October 2012-January 2013, pp. 191 and 272, no. 53 (illustrated in color, p. 191; titled Grass and Butterflies).
Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art and Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Van Gogh & Japan, August 2017-June 2018, p. 104, no. 146 (illustrated in color).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“Don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden. I’ve thought about it so much and I think we’ll save time this way. Will be at the Louvre from midday… We’ll sort things out, you’ll see. So get there as soon as possible,” so Vincent van Gogh told his brother, Theo, of his sudden arrival in Paris at the end of February 1886 (Letter 567, in L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., op. cit., 2009, vol. 3, p. 362). Determined to leave Antwerp, where he had been living and working as an art student since November of the previous year, Van Gogh arrived in the city ready “to produce and to be something” (Letter 559, ibid., p. 350).
Dazzled by the latest artistic developments of the Parisian avant-garde, most notably the radical brushwork and light-filled canvases of the Impressionists and the precise techniques of Pointillism advocated by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, Van Gogh entered a period of intensive experimentation that would ultimately transform his painterly style. Leaving behind the dark, earthy tones of his realist paintings, he embraced a brighter palette and his handling lightened, becoming more refined and delicate. Nature and the landscape became a central focus, preempting the scenes that would come to the fore when he moved to Arles two years later.
Painted in the second year of Van Gogh’s Paris stay, Coin de jardin avec papillons is a luminous depiction of a flower bed in the public gardens at Asnières, a suburban town on the Seine to the northwest of Paris. In this painting, a small flower bed becomes a brilliant world teeming with life and color. Thick grasses and delicate flowers gently swirl and sway in a summer breeze, while butterflies flit in and out amid the greenery. Throughout his life, Van Gogh captured both expansive landscape vistas as well as close up visions of nature, a reflection of his lifelong interest and deep love of the natural world. “I myself,” he would tell his sister, Willemien later, in 1889, “am always obliged to go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself” (Letter 785, ibid., vol. 4, p. 54).
Both Jacob Baart de la Faille and Jan Hulsker in their catalogues dated Coin de jardin avec papillons to Arles, during the spring of 1889. Most recently, however, as Cornelia Homburg has stated, “careful investigation by the Van Gogh Museum into the artist’s use of materials suggests that the painting’s technique could date the work to 1887, Van Gogh’s second year in Paris.” Van Gogh painstakingly limned each blade of grass, each petal of a flower, the wings and body of each butterfly with individual strokes of paint. “There are no other fully fledged works from Paris,” Homburg pointed out, “that show a similarly concentrated focus and attention to detail as in this extraordinary canvas” (Van Gogh and Japan, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2018, pp. 103-104).
Van Gogh later wrote from Arles, on or around 25 March 1888, to his brother Theo, a gallerist with Boussod, Valadon et Cie. in Paris. “I wouldn’t think it a bad idea if you sent Tersteeg [a dealer in The Hague] one of my studies… the Pont de Clichy with the yellow sky and two houses [Faille, no. 303]…or the butterflies [the present Coin de jardin] or the field of poppies [Faille, no. 562]” (Letter 589, op. cit., 2009, p. 34). Coin de jardin is a prescient painting, as periodically occurs in the evolution of Van Gogh’s work, which states an idea to which he would return in later pictures, in this case under various guises, as garden subjects and sous-bois (forest undergrowth) studies, as well as his fascination with the butterflies themselves (Faille, nos. 402, 610, 672, and 748).
Upon his arrival in Paris, Van Gogh threw himself into the development of his art, determined to establish a public career. He had first visited the capital in 1875-1876 when he worked for the print dealers, Goupil & Cie. On this second stay, the brothers soon moved into a much-needed, larger apartment at 54, rue Lepic, set on the outskirts of Montmartre. A short walk and climb away from the height of the Butte Montmartre, Van Gogh painted picturesque views of Paris, and the famous hilltop windmills, hoping to market them to tourists. He honed his drawing skills on illustrations which he tried to sell, but without success, to neighborhood cafés and Paris periodicals.
Thanks to his brother’s connections, Van Gogh enrolled in the prestigious atelier of the Salon artist, Fernand Cormon. There, he met fellow students Louis Anquetin, Emile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, all of whom would play an important role in his artistic development. His time at Cormon’s studio was however short lived. He did not like the focus on traditional methods of artistic training, namely the depiction of plaster models, and left after just three months.
Van Gogh immersed himself in the art world of Paris. In May 1888, he visited the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition, famous for the debut of Georges Seurat’s Un dimanche d’été à l’Ile de La Grande Jatte (The Art Institute of Chicago). There, the artist also found works by Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Paul Gauguin. While Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir had declined to contribute to the show, Van Gogh was able to see their art at the concurrent fifth Exposition Internationale at the Galerie Georges Petit. Later in the year, Van Gogh attended the Salon des Indépendants, studying again Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, and the new divisionist paintings of Signac and Camille Pissarro. Works in this radical new style were even more prominent in the third Indépendants exhibition on view during March-May 1887.
“In Antwerp I did not even know what the Impressionists were,” Van Gogh admitted in September or October 1886 in a letter to English artist Horace Mann Livens, whom he had met at the academy in Antwerp. “Now I have seen them and though not being one of their club yet I have admired certain Impressionist pictures—Degas, a nude figure—Claude Monet, a landscape” (Letter 569, ibid., p. 364).
As a result of these influences, Van Gogh forged forward with the creation of his own painterly style, both in terms of subject matter and handling. In the summer of 1886, he turned to still-life painting as a vehicle to learn about color. “I have made a series of color studies in painting simply flowers,” he continued in his letter to Livens, “seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red and green, yellow and violet, seeking the broken and neutral tones to harmonize brutal extremes. Trying to render intense color and not a grey harmony... So as we said at the time in COLOR seeking LIFE, the true drawing is modeling with color... And so I am struggling for life and progress in art… I have faith in color” (ibid.).
In addition, he looked to the distinctive handling of the pointillists, experimenting with this radical mode of facture. The application of finely calculated scientific theory that Seurat and Signac practiced systematically in their painting, did not, however, appeal to Van Gogh, who went about discovering his own, more instinctive way with color. Instead of the prescribed pointillist dot painstakingly placed on the canvas, Van Gogh preferred longer strokes, as evidenced in Coin de jardin, as well as an often more irregular combination of dots, dashes, and hatched, parallel strokes depending on the motif or object he was painting.
At the beginning of 1887, in response to the ideas he encountered in recent exhibitions, and at Theo’s urging, Van Gogh began painting outdoors during April and May in Asnières, along the stretch of the Seine that Seurat had used as the setting for Une Baignade (1883-1884, National Gallery, London). Both Bernard and Signac, whose families lived in Asnières, recommended to Van Gogh that he work there. The town was a center for boating enthusiasts in the Île-de-France, an airy, quiet retreat from the heat and noise of Paris during the summer, and a popular destination for weekend day-trippers. Asnières was a three-mile walk from the apartment at 54, rue Lepic.
“I ran into [Van Gogh] at Asnières and Saint-Ouen,” Signac later recalled, “we painted on the banks of the river and ate in a country café, and we returned to Paris on foot, through the streets of Saint-Ouen and Clichy. Van Gogh wore a blue zinc worker’s smock and had painted colored smudges on the sleeves. Pressed closely against me, he walked along, shouting and gesticulating, waving his freshly painted oversize canvas, smearing paint on himself and the passers-by” (quoted in J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 282).
Van Gogh likely came across the particular spot depicted in Coin de jardin in the Parc Voyer d’Argenson, near the center of Asnières, overlooking the Seine. During the spring and summer of 1887, it is thought that he painted a number of other canvases at this location (for discussion on the identification of these works see E. Hendricks and L. van Tilborgh, op. cit., 2011, vol. 2, p. 366). While working in Asnières, Van Gogh became friendly with two Parisian women who owned a summer villa there, the elderly Countess de la Boissière and her middle-aged daughter. They may be the female figures who appear in two of Van Gogh’s Paris period garden scenes (Faille, nos. 305 and 368). Van Gogh may have felt a romantic inclination toward the daughter, who was around his age. In a letter he wrote in Arles on or around 20 May 1888, he suggested to Theo that he deliver two small paintings that he wished to give the Countess and her daughter—“I can’t help thinking of them, and perhaps it will be a pleasure for them and for you, too, if you meet them” (Letter 611, op. cit., p. 87).
Coin de jardin displays a remarkably unity in its conception. The myriad strands of paint that cover the surface of the canvas derive from a single motif—a sole, individual blade of grass—which Van Gogh replicated and multiplied countless times. The artist was, in effect, “drawing with color,” as he had recommended in his letter to Livens. Van Gogh laid down each stroke rapidly, inflected with a quick, gestural flick of the wrist, varying his application slightly to describe the particular garden motif in its intrinsic shape. The result is a rippling, sparkling surface of colors suffused with light, every stroke a wave in a sea of paint. Van Gogh organized the clumps of grass and flowering plants to form rhythmical patterns, sufficiently differentiated one from another, to suggest to the viewer a perception of palpable physical texture and the illusion on the flat canvas of receding, three-dimensional space.
Van Gogh’s depiction of the subject within the picture plane suggests a stylized, abstract approach to landscape composition, moving beyond the naturalist parameters of Impressionist painting into the more synthetic domain of Post-Impressionist art, toward the kind of painting that Bernard and Gauguin had begun to advocate. Van Gogh’s affection for the small butterfly, repeated in later paintings, suggests a special empathy for this fragile flying creature, which typically possesses a life span of only two to six weeks. The flight of the butterfly is an apt symbol for the transience of worldly existence, all the more compelling when one realizes that, after completing Coin de jardin, Van Gogh lived to experience only two more summers, and half of a third, before he tragically died on 29 July 1889.
Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism opened the door for Van Gogh to express his own feelings at being face to face with nature and conveying this on canvas. This essential tenet would underpin his art for the rest of his short life, taking flight when he moved to Arles, in early 1888. By this time, Paris had left him tired and disillusioned, but his years in the city had transformed him, as well as his art, paving the way for his future in the south.

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