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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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)

Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès
oil on canvas
17 7/8 x 23 ¾ in. (45.5 x 60.3 cm.)
Painted in Saint-Rémy in October 1889
Theo van Gogh, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above).
Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, June 1910).
Dr. Thust, Berlin (acquired from the above, until at least 1914).
Marius de Zayas, New York; sale, The Anderson Galleries, New York, 23 March 1923, lot 84.
Georges Bernheim, Paris.
Georges Renand, Paris (1925, until at least 1950).
Private collection, Paris.
Private collection, Brussels (1953).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1981).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 11 February 1982.
"'St. John the Baptist' Leads Auction of the de Zayas Collection" in The New York Times, 24 March 1923.
J.-B. de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1928, vol. I, pp. 175-176, no. 623 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CLXXII; dated July-August 1889).
W. Scherjon and J. de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers sur Oise (Complete Catalogue), Amsterdam, 1937, p. 353, no. 178 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1939, p. 428, no. 620/F. 623 (illustrated; titled Wooden Sheds).
L. Hautecoeur, Van Gogh, Geneva, 1946, p. 89 (illustrated in color; titled Les Oliviers).
P. Gachet, Vincent van Gogh aux "Indépendants," Paris, 1953, no. 2951.
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 249, no. F 623 (illustrated; dated August 1889).
P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh e i suoi nessi grafici, Milan, 1971, vol. II, p. 221, no. 679 (illustrated, p. 220; dated August 1889).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, p. 431, no. 1873 (illustrated).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of Van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914, Zwolle, 1988, pp. 107-108, no. F 623 (illustrated, p. 107).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 602 (illustrated in color; dated December 1889).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 430, no. 1873 (illustrated, p. 431; dated December 1889).
C. Stolwijk and H. Veenenbos, The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 53, 129, 150, 163 and 181 (illustrated, p. 181).
B. Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, eds., Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer. Die Ausstellungen 1901-1905, "Man steht da und staunt“, Wädenswiel, 2011, vol. 2, pp. 706 and 708.
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh: The Years in France, Complete Paintings 1886-1890, Dealers, Collectors, Exhibitions, Provenance, London, 2013, pp. 219 and 284 (illustrated in color).
B. Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, eds., Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer. Die Ausstellungen 1910-1912, "Verheißung und Erfüllung zugleich“, Wädenswiel, 2016, vol. 5, p. 151 (illustrated, p. 110).
B. Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, eds., Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer. Die Ausstellungen 1912-1914, "Eine neue Klassik“, Wädenswiel, 2016, vol. 6, p. 776 (illustrated, p. 773).
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, VII. Jahrgang, Frühjahr, VII. Ausstellung, April-June 1905, no. 19 (titled Landschaft in der Provence).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July-August 1905, p. 23, no. 111 (titled Boerenwoning in Provence).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Cent tableaux de Vincent van Gogh, January 1908, no. 79 (titled Oliviers).
Munich, Moderne Kunsthandlung and Dresden, Galerie Emil Richter, Vincent van Gogh, April-May 1908, no. 56 (titled Felsen und Olbäume).
Frankfurt, Kunstverein, Vincent van Gogh, June 1908, no. 66 (titled Felsen und Olbäume).
Künstlerhaus Zürich, VI. Serie: Vincent van Gogh, Cuno Amiet, Hans Emmenegger, Giovanni Giacometti, July 1908, p. 6, no. 33 (titled Oliven auf dem Felsen).
Munich, Kunsthaus Brakl, Goethestrasse 64: Vincent van Gogh, October-December 1909, no. 45 (titled Landschaft in der Provence).
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, XIII. Jahrgang, III. Ausstellung, October-November 1910, no. 17 (titled Bauernhaus bei Auvers).
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Victoriastrasse 35: Vincent van Gogh, Zehnte Ausstellung, May-June 1914, no. 142 (titled Bauernhaus bei Auvers).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Loan Exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings, May-September 1921, p. 27, no. 125 (illustrated; titled Farm House-Auvers and dated 1890).
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (on loan, October 1921-January 1922).
Paris, Galerie d'Art Marcel Bernheim, Exposition rétrospective Van Gogh, January 1925, no. 40.
Paris, Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, Trente ans d'art indépendant, 1884-1914: Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres des Membres inscrits au cours des trente premières expositions de la Société, February-March 1926, p. 191, no. 2951 (titled Paysage).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, An Exhibition of Landscape in French Art 1500-1900, December 1949-March 1950, no. 282 (illustrated, fig. 61; titled The Cottages).
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Mons, Van Gogh en Belgique, October-November 1980, pp. 90-91, no. 42 (illustrated in color, p. 52; illustrated again, p. 91; dated August 1889).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Sale room notice
Please note that this painting has been requested by the Detroit Institute of Art for its exhibition Van Gogh in America, which will be shown October 2, 2022-January 22, 2023, and by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for its exhibition Van Gogh Cypresses, which will be shown May 15-August 27, 2023.

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Adrien Meyer
Adrien Meyer Global Head, Private Sales, Co-Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art

Lot Essay

“I’m ploughing on like a man possessed,” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in September 1889, “more than ever I have a pent up fury for work, and I think that this will contribute to curing me” (Letter 800, in L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, vol. 5, 2009, p. 80). The artist wrote these lines soon after he returned to painting following the traumatic breakdown he had suffered in the middle of July. This autumn witnessed an extraordinary surge of creativity as Van Gogh worked with a fervent energy, producing a near-miraculous outpouring of work as he captured with an ever-greater intensity the Provençal landscape around him.
Painted in October 1889, Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès dates from this artistic resurgence. Here, the sun-scorched landscape of southern France is brought thrillingly to life. A grove of olive trees stands beneath a dazzling, turquoise-blue sky, their silvery evergreen foliage casting violet shadows that cool the orange, flame-like strokes that seem to lap at their twisting trunks. The ground appears as if a sea of gold; thick with impasto, lines appear like ripples of water, heightening the sense of motion and rhythm that fills every corner of this composition. In the midst of this tempest of color stands a “mas,” a small farm, bordered by a phalanx of cypresses, beyond which rise the undulating purple peaks of Les Alpilles. Combining Van Gogh’s favorite Provençal motifs—the olive and cypress—this painting encapsulates the defining characteristics of the artist’s mature style that emerged during his time in Saint-Rémy.
Van Gogh and Saint-Paul-de-Mausole
By the time that Van Gogh painted Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, he had been living for six months at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, the asylum set on the outskirts of Saint-Rémy. Advertised as a maison de santé—“a house of health”—the converted twelfth-century Augustinian monastery was in reality an asylum for the mentally ill. Van Gogh feared the recurrence of the sudden mental trauma he had experienced on 23 December 1888 in Arles—following a bitter dispute with Paul Gauguin, his guest at the Yellow House, his home in Arles, he suffered severe hallucinations, and heard loud noises and voices that drove him to cut off part of his left ear.
In February 1889, Van Gogh suffered a second breakdown. It was at this point that he acknowledged he was not well enough to return to the Yellow House. Accepting the sympathetic advice of Dr. Félix Rey, and with the Reverend Frédéric Salles at his side, on 8 May Van Gogh traveled to Saint-Rémy, about seventeen miles away. With his brother Theo’s agreement and support, the artist voluntarily admitted himself to the Hôpital de Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, placing himself in the care of Dr. Théophile Peyron and his staff.
Set on the outskirts of Saint-Rémy, Saint-Paul-de-Mausole stood in a fertile plain amid wheatfields, lines of cypresses, and olive groves, with huts and stone farmhouses nestled into the landscape, all overlooked by the rugged mountains of the Alpilles, the lower, final chain of the Alps. Van Gogh took to his new home quickly. A day after his admission he wrote to his sister, “It’s possible that I’ll stay here for quite a long time, never have I been so tranquil as here and at the hospital in Arles to be able to paint a little at last. Very near here there are some little gray or blue mountains, with very, very green wheat fields at their foot, and pines” (Letter 772, vol. 5, p. 12). At the end of his first month he wrote to Theo, “Not one single time have I had the slightest desire to be elsewhere; just the will to work is becoming a tiny bit firmer… What a beautiful land and what beautiful blue and what a sun!” (Letter 777, vol. 5, p. 30).
Van Gogh’s work reached a climax of expression during his yearlong stay in Saint-Rémy, as he depicted the world around him with an ever greater intensity. Sheltered in the seclusion of the asylum, he encountered spells of mental illness interspersed with periods of prolific production. As Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzger have described, “At all events, his present state permitted total concentration; he could explore himself, indeed meditate. And of course, that inner life he was giving his full attention to clamored to be heard on the outside—and was expressed in art of new and uninhibited power” (Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 2012, p. 515).
Under the great blue sky”
At first, Van Gogh was kept under close observation and was not permitted to leave the grounds of the asylum. Ensconced in painting the blossoming spring-time flora of the gardens, Van Gogh was nevertheless entranced by the panorama that stretched beyond the boundary walls. As he described a landscape he was working on (Faille, no. 611) in a letter to Theo, “One is the countryside that I glimpse from the window of my bedroom. In the foreground a field of wheat, ravaged and knocked to the ground after a storm. A boundary wall and beyond, grey foliage of a few olive trees, huts and hills” (Letter 779, vol. 5, 2009, p. 31).
In early June, Van Gogh was finally able to set off into the countryside to paint. For an artist from the north, olive trees, a staple in the Provençal landscape, were a particularly novel sight. He had written to Theo from Arles in April 1889, not long after his arrival in the south, “if you could see the olive trees at this time of year… The old-silver and silver foliage greening up against the blue. And the orangeish ploughed soil. It’s something very different from what one thinks of it in the north—it’s a thing of delicacy—so refined… 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” (Letter 763, vol. 4, p. 434). The olive groves that were spread all over the countryside quickly captured Van Gogh’s attention, inspiring him to paint a series of works on this subject—including The Museum of Modern Art’s Les Oliviers (Faille, no. 712), among others.
Im ploughing on like a man possessed”
Following a third breakdown in the height of summer, Van Gogh returned to painting once again in September. As the heat of the Provençal summer cooled and autumn arrived, the artist returned once again to olive trees, finding in their forms and foliage a subject that was unchanging and permanent—motifs at once compelling for him as an artist, and comforting for him as a man. Just as he had explained to his sister earlier in the year that he needed to “go and gaze at a blade of grass, a pine-tree branch, an ear of wheat, to calm myself” (Letter 785, vol. 5, p. 54), so the intense study of nature—in this case a near serial depiction of olive trees over a number of paintings—continued to serve as a kind of tonic to the artist, offering him constant inspiration and encouragement. Painting was now an act of self-preservation, an art of survival; “now, one picture staked a whole day’s claim on the future, and a series represented belief in the continuation of life. Van Gogh’s indefatigable determination to paint had never been greater than in the asylum at Saint-Rémy” (op. cit., 2012, p. 509).
With their subtle shifts in color and complex, twisting formations, olive trees were the perfect motifs for Van Gogh to immerse himself. “On the other hand the olive trees are very characteristic,” he wrote to Theo at the end of September, “and I’m struggling to capture that. It’s silver, sometimes more blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed, whitening on the ground that is yellow, pink, purplish or orangeish to dull red ochre. But very difficult, very difficult. But that suits me and attracts me to work fully in gold or silver” (Letter 806, vol. 5, p. 107).
Van Gogh’s self-professed “struggle” is masterfully realized in the present Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, in which a small olive grove—likely belonging to the house nestled into the landscape—serves as the focus. Van Gogh frequently described these dwellings in his depictions of the Saint-Rémy landscape. A similar scene can be found in Ferme aux oliviers, painted in December 1889 (Faille, no. 664; Private collection), in which a small building stands screened by the cumulus-shaped foliage of the trees. Supposedly this work pictured the home of Charles Trabuc, a supervisor at the asylum; regarded in this context, it is possible that Van Gogh returned to the same spot in the present work (M. Bailey, Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum, London, 2018. p. 65).
With the motif of the olive, Van Gogh was able to explore his now famed “expressionistic” artistic language—as the present work masterfully shows. These circular strokes and snaking, impastoed lines came to dominate Van Gogh’s work in Saint-Rémy. The complex forms of this tree—their characteristic twisted branches, gnarled trunks, and low height—served as the perfect object for the artist’s linear, rhythmic handling. Van Gogh’s fascination with the contorted forms has also been interpreted biographically—his inner, mental turmoil finding external expression in the depiction of these trees. Either way, the intertwined outlines and forms of this object served to impart a sense of dynamism that flows into the earth itself, filling every part of the composition. Not only is the engulfing heat and blazing light of this October landscape felt, but Van Gogh’s own ferociously intense gaze is present, as the landscape is turned into a deeply felt, highly subjective artistic vision.
Impressions of Provence”
As the present work shows, by this time Van Gogh’s depictions of the landscape were invested with a palpable materiality together with a powerful symbolic dimension. For Van Gogh, nature was not a simple backdrop to the world, but was the alpha and omega of life itself. Van Gogh was now regarding the landscape as alive with feeling, power, and symbolism—everything from the omnipresent Alpilles to olive trees, had a personal resonance for the artist.
Cypresses too, classical symbols of death and mourning and Christian representations of eternal life, now occupied a prominent position in Van Gogh’s work. Having discovered these quintessentially Mediterranean trees soon after he arrived in the asylum, Van Gogh proceeded to feature these statuesque motifs in a number of his most famous canvases—La nuit étoilée to name but one (Faille, no. 612; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). “The cypresses still preoccupy me,” he wrote in June. “I’d like to do something with them like the canvases of the sunflowers because it astonishes me that no one has yet done them as I see them. It’s beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk. And the green has such a distinguished quality… To do nature here, as everywhere, one must really be there for a long time” (Letter 783, vol. 5, p. 46).
By this time, Van Gogh had identified a desire to create through his art, “a sort of whole, ‘Impressions of Provence’” (Letter 808, vol. 5, p. 113). The longer he spent in Provence, the more he wanted to distil its atmosphere and essence in his painting, capturing a sense of place. At this time he honed in on the defining aspects of this corner of the world, identifying olive trees, cypresses, and the ever-present Alpilles as the central motifs of the landscape. “Dear God,” he wrote to Emile Bernard at the beginning of October, “this is a pretty awful little part of the world, everythings hard to do here, to disentangle its intimate character, and so that it’s not something vaguely true, but the true soil of Provence. So to achieve that, you have to toil hard. And so it naturally becomes a little abstract. Because it will be a question of giving strength and brilliance to the sun and the blue sky, and to the scorched and often melancholic fields their delicate scent of thyme. The olive trees down here, my good fellow, they’d suit your book… It’s silver against orangeish or purplish earth, under the great blue sky” (Letter 809, vol. 5, p. 115).
As such, cypresses and olive trees are to Saint-Rémy what the Sunflowers were to Arles: symbols of Van Gogh’s art as well as of himself. With works such as Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès, Van Gogh fully succeeded not just in capturing a vital sense of place, but in rendering his own, powerfully instinctive vision of it. As Theo noted, “All of [your latest pictures] exhibit a forcefulness in the use of color that you hadn’t attained before, which in itself is a rare quality, but you have gone further, and if there are people who occupy themselves seeking the symbol by dint of torturing the form, I find it in many of your canvases through the expression of the summary of your thoughts on nature and living beings, which you feel are so strongly attached to it. But how hard your mind must have worked and how you endangered yourself to the extreme point where vertigo is inevitable” (Letter 781, vol. 5, p. 36).
Its Van Gogheling everywhere”
Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès was acquired from Van Gogh by his brother, Theo, after which it passed to his wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, before it entered the collection of Paul Cassirer in June 1910. Cassirer was a seminal figure in the dissemination of Van Gogh’s work across Europe in the opening years of the twentieth century, responsible for a series of exhibitions held across Germany that introduced Van Gogh’s work to the nascent group of German Expressionists, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. So taken were these artists by Van Gogh’s work over the course of the following years that Emil Nolde mockingly suggested a better name for their group should be “Van Goghiana” (Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story, exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2019, p. 262). By 1910, interest in the artist still continued unabated; as the poet Ferdinand Avenarius wrote in 1910, “Van Gogh is dead, but the Van Gogh people are alive. And how alive they are!... It’s Van Gogheling everywhere” (quoted in ibid., p. 37). It was not only the German avant-garde that was deeply influenced by Van Gogh's work, but artists in France, including the Fauves, found in the artist's heightened color and impassioned facture inspiration and affirmation for their own artistic explorations. Henri Matisse in particular, in works such as Oliviers à Collioure (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), built upon the lessons learnt through looking at Van Gogh's work.
Subsequently, Cabanes de bois parmi les oliviers et cyprès entered the collection of Marius de Zayas, a Mexican-born, New York-based artist, writer, and gallerist. Soon after his arrival in New York, De Zayas exhibited his caricatures at the famed 291 Gallery owned by Alfred Stieglitz. From this time on, he remained closely connected to Stieglitz and his gallery, helping to organize the first exhibition of Pablo Picasso to be held in America in 1911, and later assisting in the foundation of Stieglitz’s review 291. He quickly became a key promoter of French modernism in his adopted city, holding a number of exhibitions of artists including Paul Cézanne, André Derain, Pablo Picasso, and Van Gogh, at his own, Modern Gallery, which had he opened in 1915. In 1923, De Zayas sold his collection, which included the present work, and Van Gogh’s Portrait de Camille Roulin (Philadelphia Museum of Art), as well as Cézanne’s Le Moulin brûlé à Maisons-Alfort (Private collection) and Gauguin’s Te burao (Art Institute of Chicago).

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