VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
1 More
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
4 More
Property of a Private Collector
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)


VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
oil on canvas laid down on panel
16 7/8 x 23 in. (42.8 x 58.6 cm.)
Painted in Nuenen in May 1884
Anna Carbentus van Gogh-Carbentus, Nuenen and Breda (mother of the artist; probably gift from the artist sometime between November 1885 and February 1886).
Janus Schrauwen, Breda (gift from the above, 1889).
Jan C. Couvreur, Breda (acquired from the above, 14 August 1902).
Kees Mouwen Jr. and Willem van Bakel, Breda (acquired from the above, 1902-1903).
Jacobus Anthonie Fruin, Rotterdam (by 1927).
Willem Moll, The Hague (probably by descent from the above).
Willem Brinkman, Schipluiden.
Private collection, Paris (acquired from the above).
Ernest Gutzwiller, Paris and Basel, then by descent; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 24 June 1996, lot 12.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Wereldkroniek, 7 November 1903, p. 498 (illustrated).
Zondagsblad v/h Dagblad van Zuid-Holland en’s Gravenhage, 8 November 1903 (illustrated).
Rotterdam Nieuwsblad, 16 November 1903.
J.B. de la Faille, L’oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1928, vol. I, p. 20, no. 31 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. VI).
W.F. Douwes, Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1930 (illustrated, pl. 33).
W. van Beselaere, Der Hollandsche periode (1880-85) in het Werk van Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1937, pp. 282 and 414 (dated April-May 1884).
J.B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, London, 1939, p. 57, no. F. 31 (illustrated, no. 38; titled Pollard Beeches).
V.W. van Gogh, ed., The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. II, pp. 288-290, letter 367.
P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh, Milan, 1966, p. 94, no. 41 (illustrated, p. 95).
J.B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 52, no. F. 31 (illustrated, p. 53).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1977, p. 112, no. 477 (illustrated; dated April-May 1884).
I. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Oldenberg, 1990, vol. I, p. 40 (illustrated; dated April 1884).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 112, no. 477 (illustrated; dated circa 30 April 1884).
M. Op de Coul, "In search of Van Gogh’s Nuenen studio, the Oldenzeel exhibitions of 1903" in Van Gogh Museum Journal, Amsterdam, 2002, p. 116, no. 47 (titled Landscape with trees).
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Amsterdam, 2009, vol. 4, pp. 147-148, letter 445 (illustrated in color, p. 147).
Rotterdam, Kunstzalen Oldenzeel, Vincent van Gogh, November-December 1903, no. 47 (titled Landschap met boomen).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans, Kersttentoonstelling, December 1927-January 1928, p. 25, no. 21 (titled Knotwilgen).

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

Created in May 1884, Knotberken emerged at an important turning point in Vincent van Gogh’s career, as he solidified his painterly technique and began to forge an increasingly personal style in his approach to the landscape. After three lonely months in Drenthe, the artist had moved to the small village of Nuenen in December 1883, returning to live with his family in the local parsonage. Within a few weeks, he settled into a routine and began working once again, converting a small wash-house at the rear of the building into a modest studio space. Although relations with his parents remained somewhat strained, he reported in a letter to his friend Antoine Philippe Furnée at the beginning of January that “Things are going quite well for me here in Brabant,” adding “I find the countryside here very stimulating” (Letter no. 421; 6-18 January 1884, in L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, vol. 3, 2009, p. 95). Van Gogh spent much of the following two years dedicated to recording the many different facets of life he witnessed in the Nuenen and its environs, focusing his eye on the rhythms of the local community, capturing the everyday occurrences that marked the existence of these rural peasants, as well as the familiar, untouched countryside in this part of the Netherlands.
For several months prior to his move, Van Gogh had been looking to refocus his work and tackle landscape subjects, writing to his brother Theo during the summer of 1883: “After the figure studies I feel a need to look at length at things like the sea, the bronze potato leaves, stubble fields or ploughed earth” (Letter no. 365; 23 July 1883, in ibid., vol. 2, p. 386). As a result, alongside his drawings and paintings of the local weavers in their cottages, the artist spent the winter and early spring of 1883-1884 drawing the Brabant landscape, producing a series of detailed pen and ink studies of the rolling fields, avenues lined with trees and the gardens surrounding the parsonage (De la Faille, nos. 1128-1130, 1132, and 1135). Van Gogh also ventured further afield, travelling around the locality in search of motifs, gaining inspiration by walking through the landscape; describing one such journey in a letter to Theo, the artist revealed the lengths he often went to in order to find a suitable subject: “Tomorrow I’m going to paint a thing in another village—also a cottage—in a smaller scale. I found it last Sunday on a long trip I made… searching for subjects… I came back covered in mud because we had to spend a good half hour wading through a stream. But for me painting is now becoming as stimulating and enticing as hunting—it is a hunt, after all, for models, and beautiful places too” (Letter no. 507; 9 June 1885, in ibid., vol. 3, p. 252).
As winter gave way to spring, Van Gogh began a series of paintings inspired by the changing landscape around Brabant, including the present composition, Knotberken. Centered around a quintet of birch trees, which had been strategically pruned the previous year to encourage new growth and were just beginning to bud again, the canvas reveals the artist’s growing confidence in the handling of paint and approach to color during this period. He appears to have chosen the scene for the unique, expressive character of the small copse of trees, their gnarled, twisting trunks and thin, bare branches standing starkly against the cloud-filled sky. Emphasizing the rough texture and variegated color of the tree bark using short, curving brushstrokes laden with pigment, Van Gogh imbues the birches with a sense of monumentality and permanence, their powerful forms appearing as a longstanding landmark amidst the flat, rolling fields surrounding them.
Among the trees stands a male figure, his form captured in just a few brief strokes of the brush. Dressed in the attire of a local laborer or farmer, his presence within the scene points to Van Gogh’s continued interest in the lives of the ordinary people who made this part of the countryside their home, a subject which would occupy him intensely the following year. Van Gogh’s “counsellor and guide” at this time, as he wrote to Theo, was Jean-François Millet, whose powerful paintings of laborers in rural France the artist deeply admired throughout his career (Letter no. 493; 13 April 1885, in ibid., vol. 3, p. 225). Indeed, in many ways he considered the great French Realist painter something of a mentor—by the early 1880s, Van Gogh had collected almost fifty prints and reproductions of the artist’s work, which he then tacked to his walls, and had eagerly devoured Alfred Sensier’s biography of the painter. With his bowed head and slightly hunched shoulders, the figure in Knotberken appears to echo the posture of the central characters in Millet’s Angelus, who dip their heads in prayer, as they momentarily pause their toiling in the fields. At the same time, the man’s posture finds parallels in the profiles of the trees, suggesting he is as much a part of the landscape as the aged birches themselves, his life similarly rooted in the soil of Brabant and tied to this unchanging landscape.

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All