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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VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)

Verger avec cyprès

Details
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Verger avec cyprès
oil on canvas
25 3/4 x 31 7/8 in. (65.2 x 80.2 cm.)
Painted in Arles in April 1888
Provenance
Theo van Gogh, Paris (acquired from the artist, 7 May 1888).
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above).
Andries Bonger, Amsterdam (by 1905, until at least 1912).
D'Audretsch Art Gallery, The Hague.
Jack Niekerk Art Gallery, The Hague.
Howard Young Art Gallery, New York (1928).
N.H. Holston, New York.
J.K. Newman, New York; sale, American Art Association, New York, 6 December 1935, lot 39.
Carroll Carstairs Art Gallery, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Charles Shipman and Joan Whitney Payson, New York (by 1938, then by descent).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 22 June 1998.
Literature
J.-B. de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1928, vol. I, p. 157, no. 551 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CLII).
Art News, 30 November 1935, vol. 34, p. 22.
The New York Times, 7 December 1935, p. 15.
W. Scherjon and J. de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers sur Oise (Complete Catalogue), Amsterdam, 1937, p. 53, no. 21 (illustrated, p. 52).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1939, p. 400, no. 575 (illustrated; titled Spring Time).
V.W. van Gogh, ed., The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. II, pp. 545-546, letter 477, pp. 549-556, letters 478 and 480, pp. 561-564, letters 484 and 486, pp. 573-576, letter 492 and pp. 598-600, letter 504 and vol. III, pp. 430-431, letter W 3, p. 478, letter B 3 and p. 480, letter B 4.
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Payson, New York, 1960 (illustrated in color; dated 1888-1889).
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 232, no. F 551 (illustrated; titled Orchard in Blossom with Yellow Enclosure).
P. Lecaldano, L’opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh, Milan, 1971, vol. 2, p. 205, no. 486 (illustrated, p. 204; titled Frutteto in fiore (con recinto e cipressi)).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, p. 317, no. 1396 (illustrated).
M. Schapiro, Vincent van Gogh, New York, 1980, p. 52 (illustrated in color, p. 53; titled Orchard, Springtime).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of Van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914, Zwolle, 1988, p. 103 (titled Orchard in Blossom with Yellow Enclosure).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 328 (illustrated in color; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 317, no. 1396 (illustrated).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh, New York, 1996, p. 103 (illustrated).
J. Ten Berge, T. Meedendorp, A. Vergeest and R. Verhoogt, The Paintings of Vincent van Gogh in the Collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 2003, p. 215 (illustrated in color; titled Orchard with Blossoming Peach Trees).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, Vincent van Gogh: Painted with Words, the Letters to Emile Bernard, exh. cat., The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 2007, p. 141, no. 13 (illustrated in color).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, 2009, vol. 4, p. 38, letter 590, pp. 52-53, letter 596, pp. 56-58, letter 597, pp. 61-64, letters 599-600, pp. 70-74, letter 602, p. 79, letter 606, p. 81, letter 608, pp. 96-98, letter 615 and pp. 152-153, letter 631 (illustrated in color, p. 52, fig. 1; illustrated again in color, p. 57, fig. 9, p. 61, fig. 6, p. 67, fig. 17, p. 73, fig. 11, p. 81, fig. 8, p. 96, fig. 3 and p. 152, fig. 2; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh: The Years in France, Complete Paintings 1886-1890, Dealers, Collectors, Exhibitions, Provenance, London, 2013, p. 143 (illustrated in color; titled Orchard in Blossom with Yellow Enclosure).
R. Skea, Vincent’s Trees, London, 2013, pp. 77 and 122 (illustrated in color, pp. 76-77).
R. Kendall, S. van Heugten and C. Stolwijk, Van Gogh and Nature, exh. cat., Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, 2015, pp. 135-136 (illustrated in color, p. 136, fig. 102; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
Exhibited
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July-August 1905, p. 26, no. 169.
Cologne, Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes Westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler zu Köln, May-September 1912, p. 22, no. 22 (titled Blühender Obstgarten and dated 1887).
Haarlem, Teylers Museum, Vincent van Gogh, April-May 1923, no. 14 or 29.
New York, Reinhardt Galleries, Loan Exhibition of Paintings from Memling, Holbein and Titian to Renoir and Picasso, in Aid of the Greenwich House Health Center, February-March 1928, no. 22 (illustrated; titled Garden at Arles).
New York, Carroll Carstairs Gallery, French Impressionists and After, December 1935-January 1936, no. 10.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Fourteen Masterpieces: Van Gogh, Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the Home for the Destitute Blind, March-April 1948, no. 1 (illustrated; titled Printemps, près d'Arles).
Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Vincent van Gogh, February 1951, pp. 21, 38 and 49, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 39; titled Springtime (Orchard)).
New York, Wildenstein & Co. Inc., Loan Exhibition: Van Gogh, for the Benefit of the Public Education Association, March-April 1955, p. 21, no. 27 (illustrated, p. 42; titled Springtime).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Van Gogh in Arles, October-December 1984, p. 51, no. 12 (illustrated in color; titled Orchard with Peach Blossom).
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Vincent van Gogh: Paintings, March-July 1990, pp. 114-115, no. 43 (illustrated in color, p. 117; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
Seattle, Experience Music Project, DoubleTake: From Monet to Lichtenstein, April 2006-January 2007, p. 23 (illustrated in color; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, January-April 2010, pp. 203-204, no. 111 (illustrated in color, p. 204; titled Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom).
Special notice

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Sale room notice
Please note that this painting has been requested by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the centerpiece works for their exhibition Van Gogh Cypresses from May-August 2023.

Please note the amended provenance, which is accessible online.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

On 20 February 1888, Vincent van Gogh arrived in Arles to find the Provençal town covered in snow. This was the artist’s first experience of southern France, a place he had imagined as a Promised Land, a utopia which he believed would be like Japan, a country that fascinated him. He also had hopes to found an artist’s colony, the “Studio of the South,” which, he wished, would attract other like-minded artists to the area.
While Van Gogh’s vision of an artistic community was never realized, his move to the south marked the beginning of the artist’s mature career. Over the course of the fifteen months that he lived in Arles, his work changed from its Impressionist-inspired Paris handling, to the intensely colored, often impastoed and increasingly expressive paintings for which he is now renowned. He worked at an intensive pace, creating an outpouring of paintings and drawings that stand among the finest of his short yet extraordinary career as an artist.
“The act of metamorphosis by which Van Gogh reinvented himself in Arles is one of the most startling phenomena of his career,” Richard Kendall has written. “If the years in Paris had been profoundly formative, the pictures he made there were arguably as remarkable for their breadth of experimentation and diversity of scale, subject, and finish as for their individual distinction. After a matter of weeks in Provence, however, Van Gogh had established a consistency of execution and a clarity of formal means that have defined his creative personality ever since. Classic images followed each other in breathtaking succession...” (Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 90).
Verger avec cyprès was painted in the spring of 1888, not long after the artist had arrived in Arles. This painting belongs to the landmark series of fourteen canvases depicting orchards in blossom that stands as Van Gogh’s first major body of work in the south (Faille, nos. 394, 399, 403-406, 513, 551-557). Not only did this group validate for the artist his decision to move to the south, but they mark a moment of jubilant rebirth following the privations he had experienced Paris—heralding the start, quite literally, of the flowering of his art that would take place over the following months. With their assured handling and luminous, delicate palette, these paintings demonstrate Van Gogh’s great love of nature and his innate ability to read the colors, atmosphere and distinct qualities of a landscape and translate these into pictorial form. Of this defining series, the present work is one of only five to remain in private hands. The majority can be found in museums including the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The freezing temperatures in Arles—it was the coldest winter on record when Van Gogh arrived—initially thwarted the artist’s exploration of the area, though he painted a few scenes, including the Langlois Bridge. An auspicious precursor of the great series of orchards that would soon follow are two still lifes of a single sprig of almond blossom in a glass that the artist painted in February, while still mostly holed up indoors (Faille, nos. 392 and 393). When milder weather finally arrived, the artist was greeted with a sight that affirmed his abiding belief that he found in Provence a Japan of the south. The myriad fruit trees that proliferated all over this area of France burst into flower, providing Van Gogh with his very own cherry blossom festival. “The orchards were his utopia: there it was, before his very eyes” (I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 2001, p. 331).
Over the course of a few weeks, Van Gogh proceeded to paint fourteen canvases that capture different views of an orchard in blossom. Apricot, cherry, peach, pear and plum trees serve as beacons of possibility in the artist’s world as he plunged headlong into his new surroundings and memorialized the annual, life affirming advent of spring. Ronald Pickvance has suggested that Van Gogh painted this series from a single orchard, though the exact location has never been identified (exh. cat., op. cit., 1984, p. 45).
Enthused by the motif he had found, and likely having received permission from the orchard’s owner, he set out to create “a Provence orchard of tremendous gaiety,” capturing a variety of views of the various trees that grew there (Letter 592, in L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, 2009, vol. 4, p. 42). “He maintained an insider’s view of the characteristic Provençal orchard,” Pickvance wrote, rarely portraying the environs that lay beyond this blossoming world he had discovered (ibid., p. 45). In addition, he never included a human figure in his compositions and very occasionally added signs of any human presence—a rake and scythe in one, and a ladder in another. It is nature in its state of annual renewal and rebirth that serves as the sole protagonist of these scenes.
While in some works, Van Gogh honed in on a single tree, in Verger avec cyprès he depicted a more expansive view. Here the frigid, furrowed and shadowless ground, rendered with a tapestry of delicate, linear strokes in hues of pale blue, pink and green, leads towards the peach trees that explode with boughs of pale confetti-like petals. The same principal statuesque tree had served as the protagonist of a slightly earlier work in the series—Pêcher roses en fleurs (Souvenir de Mauve) (Faille, no. 394; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo), as well as the closely related Verger en fleurs (Faille, no. 404; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). The orchard is lined by a cane fence, installed to protect the trees from the mistral that regularly swept through Provence. Just visible beyond is a battalion of cypress trees—the likes of which the artist had never seen before from his life in the north. This symbol of the region would soon become a ubiquitous element of Van Gogh’s work there. These too were intended as protection for the fruit trees, their looming presence in the present work serving as a bold visual contrast to the delicate, dazzling petals of the trees.
Van Gogh described the inception of the orchard series on 25 March, when he remarked to his brother, the Paris-based art dealer, Theo, “I’ve just done a clump of apricot trees in a little fresh green orchard” (Letter 589, op. cit., 2009, p. 32). Just five days later, now writing to his sister, Willemien, he said he had a total of six paintings of blossoming fruit trees. “And the one I brought home today would possibly appeal to you—it’s a dug-over patch of ground in an orchard, a wicker fence and two peach trees in full bloom, pink against a sparkling blue sky with white clouds and sunshine” (Letter 590, ibid., p. 38).
The letters that follow detail the artist in the throes of painting. “I’m in a fury of work as the trees are in blossom,” he wrote to Theo at the beginning of April, ever clearer on his artistic aim with the series (Letter 592, ibid., p. 42). On 12 April, he embarked upon the present canvas. “I’m busy with the fruit trees in blossom,” he told Theo, “pink peach trees [the present work], yellow-white pear trees [Faille, no. 513; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo]. I follow no system of brushwork at all; I hit the canvas with irregular strokes which I leave as they are, impastoed, uncovered spots of canvas…” (Letter 596, ibid., p. 52).
Van Gogh considered Verger avec cyprès as a pendant to the Kröller-Müller’s aforementioned Verger entouré de cyprès. Painted from similar vantage points, the latter continues the view from the right hand side of the composition of the present work. The day after he had announced to Theo the commencement of these two works, Van Gogh expanded on an idea to create decorative ensembles based on this motif. Realizing the commercial potential of these bucolic springtime scenes, Van Gogh wanted to produce two triptychs of the orchards, and continue the following year to once again picture the landscape in bloom. He sketched out the first three paintings he had created as a trio, remarking that the present work and the Kröller-Müller’s work were “still only in the state of embryos or foetuses” (Letter 597, ibid., p. 56). These were, Van Gogh continued, “supposed to represent a very large orchard with a border of cypresses and large pear and apple trees” (ibid., p. 58).
As Van Gogh’s description of his technique in the present work shows, he worked fast and assuredly on these paintings, clearly conscious that this spectacle would not last long, and was at the mercy of the notorious Provençal mistral. “In the intervals,” he wrote to Theo on 11 April, while encountering firsthand the barraging winds that so often swept through the area, “sunshine that made all the little white flowers sparkle. It was so beautiful!” (Letter 595, ibid., p. 50).
The present work has a particularly pointillist handling. The sky and blossom are rendered with an array of speckled dots of color—the “irregular strokes” that Van Gogh described. This effect was the defining characteristic of this work. As he later wrote to Theo, “The orchard study you mention—where there’s a lot of stippling—is one half of the main subject of the decoration” (Letter 615, ibid., p. 96). The artist had visited the studio of Georges Seurat on the day before he had left Paris in February—this work is perhaps a reflection of the distinctive style that the Neo-Impressionist had pioneered, as well as of the Impressionism he had imbibed in Paris. Yet, crucially, Van Gogh was not, like the pointillist, employing a regulated, meticulous method of color application, but rather, was using this technique in accordance to his own means of expression, as a way to capture the sparkling intensity of light and color of this spring day in the orchard.
While his handling varies across the series, from the delicate, impastoed surface of the present work, to the bolder, broader strokes in some of the others, Van Gogh’s attention to color unites each of the fourteen canvases. Faced with the blue skies and a high, bright sun, fresh shoots of green grass, and the luminous white and pink flowers of the trees, Van Gogh intensified his palette—and in some cases, imagined it—in order to fully convey the atmosphere that lay before him in these scenes. He explained this to Willemien, “You understand that the countryside of the south can’t exactly be painted with the palette of Mauve, say, who belongs in the north and is and always will be the master of gray. But today’s palette is definitely colorful—sky blue, pink, orange, vermilion, brilliant yellow, bright green, bright wine red, violet. But by intensifying all the colors one again achieves calm and harmony” (Letter 590, ibid., p. 38).
The motif of the flowering tree also stood as the embodiment of Van Gogh’s desire to discover the characteristics of Japan that he had seen primarily in the myriad woodcuts that proliferated in Paris at this time. There, the artist had fallen in love with the idea of the country. He purchased a number of these prints, many of which featured the region’s signature blossoming cherry trees. Describing his train journey to Arles in a letter to Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh recalled how he was constantly watching “to see ‘if it was like Japan yet’!” (Letter 706, ibid., p. 332). Shortly after arriving in Arles, he wrote to Emile Bernard, “…this part of the world seems to me as beautiful as Japan for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay color effects” (Letter 587, ibid., p. 28). While the motif of the blossoming orchard would be the most direct element of Japonisme that Van Gogh found in Arles, this subject enabled him to understand his new setting, and develop a novel palette and handling with which to describe this in painterly form.
It was Van Gogh’s heightened response to the landscape, and his ability to translate its everchanging qualities that lent his depictions of the world around him the intensity of expression and feeling for which he is renowned. With the orchard series, Van Gogh perfectly captured “the pellucid atmosphere and limpid colors of a Provençal spring,” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1984, p. 45). Just a few months later, when the fields of wheat had turned into vast squares of gold and ochre, he similarly distilled these essential qualities, creating a series of harvest works that convey the sun-scorched environs of southern France. Van Gogh would continue to revel in the eternal rhythms of nature, as season moved to season with a constancy that seemed to evade his own mental state. In many ways this inaugural series of orchards in blossom marks the beginning of this concept serving as a central motif in his work. As Ingo Walther and Rainer Metzger have described, “Van Gogh was seeking the transient in the eternal; he was seeking that moment in reality that would validate his vision of a better life… This moment would make true what had been so assiduously planned in his imagination. Van Gogh was rarely to find a subject that fitted this endeavor and also pleased the eye as thoroughly as the trees in blossom did. They were timeless yet transient, fragile yet with the solid presence of icons” (op. cit., 2001, p. 333).
On 7 May 1888, Van Gogh sent Theo his first consignment of canvases from Arles, which included the present work, as well as the others from the orchard series. This marked the beginning of a practice that would continue throughout the artist’s time in the south. After Theo’s untimely death, Verger avec cyprès passed to his widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who was responsible for cementing the artist’s reputation following the loss of her husband. She was crucial to the large retrospective exhibition that took place at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in the summer of 1905, in which the present work was included. This show was critical in disseminating the artist’s work to a wide European audience, especially influencing the nascent German Expressionist group. The painting remained in the family’s collection, moving to Johanna’s son, Vincent, and then to Andries Bonger by 1905. It was latterly in the collection of Joan Whitney Payson. A member of the renowned Whitney family, Payson led an eccentric life: along with her philanthropic endeavors, she was passionate about racing, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, which she collected, and was also the majority owner of the New York Mets.

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