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)

Meules de blé

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Meules de blé
gouache, watercolor, pen and brush and black ink over pencil on paper
19 x 23 ¾ in. (48.5 x 60.4 cm.) 
Executed in Arles in June 1888
Theo van Gogh, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above).
Gustave Fayet, Igny (acquired from the above, January 1907).
Galerie E. Druet, Paris.
Max Meirowsky, Berlin, later Amsterdam and Geneva (acquired from the above, 1913, until circa 1938).
Paul Graupe & Cie., Paris (circa 1938).
Alexandrine de Rothschild, Paris (by 1940).
Seized from the above during the Occupation of France and transferred to the Jeu de Paume, Paris (April 1941); transferred to Schloss Kogl, St. Georgen im Attergau (18 June 1941; ERR no. R 905).
Private collection.
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1978).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1979.

Please note that the present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner, the heir of Max Meirowsky and heirs of Alexandrine de Rothschild.  The settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.
J. Meier-Graefe, Vincent, Munich, 1921, vol. II (illustrated, pl. 90; titled Getreideernte and dated 1889-1890).
J.-B. de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1928, p. 131, no. 1425 (titled Les Meules; with incomplete medium).
V.W. van Gogh, ed., The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, London, 1958, vol. II, pp. 584-587, letter 498.
A Detailed Catalogue with Full Documentation of 272 Works by Vincent van Gogh, Belonging to the Collection of the State Museum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, 1959, p. 83.
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, pp. 501 and 662, no. F 1425 (illustrated, p. 501; titled Haystacks).
P. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di Van Gogh e i suoi nessi grafici, Milan, 1971, vol. II, p. 209, no. 525C (illustrated; titled Campo di grano).
C.W. Millard, "A Chronology for Van Gogh's Drawings of 1888" in Master Drawings, summer 1974, vol. XII, no. 2, p. 159 (titled Hayricks).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, p. 326, no. 1441 (illustrated, p. 327; titled Haystacks).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue Raisonné, San Francisco, 1992, vol. I, pp. 370-371, no. 1425 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CLI; titled Hayricks).
L. Heenk, Vincent van Gogh's Drawings. An Analysis of their Production and Uses, unpublished diss., London, 1995, pp. 165-166 and 174.
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 334, no. 1441 (illustrated; titled Haystacks near a Farm).
C. Stolwijk and H. Veenenbos, The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 51, 125, 147, 162 and 194 (illustrated, p. 194; titled Haystacks near a Farm).
C. Ives, S.A. Stein, S. van Heugten and M. Vellekoop, Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2005, p. 190.
J. Lloyd and M. Peppiatt, eds., Van Gogh and Expressionism, exh. cat., Neue Galerie, New York, 2007, p. 171.
L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Amsterdam, 2009, vol. 4, pp. 117-118, letter 623 and pp. 125-127, letter 625 (illustrated, pp. 119 and 126; titled Haystacks).
T. Stranding and L. van Tilborgh, eds., Becoming Van Gogh, exh. cat., Denver Art Museum, 2012, pp. 106 and 115, note 39.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July-August 1905, p. 40, no. 419 (titled Hooischelven).
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Adrien Meyer
Adrien Meyer Global Head, Private Sales, Co-Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art

Lot Essay

“For myself, I’m in better health here than in the north,” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his friend, Emile Bernard in the middle of June 1888, “I even work in the wheatfields at midday, in the full heat of the sun, without any shade whatever… I revel in it like a cicada” (Letter 628, op. cit., 2009, vol. 4, p. 137). Van Gogh’s first Provençal summer hit him with the force of a revelation. The all-encompassing, dry heat and blinding light transformed the landscape into a blaze of color and shimmering movement—a far cry from the silver-gray light of the north and his native Holland. Summer also heralded the start of harvest season. Often both awed and comforted by the eternally revolving seasons, Van Gogh was captivated by the farmers’ work in the constantly changing fields. Exhilarated, he quickly began to capture the rural theater that played out each day before his eyes in a rush of prolific creativity.
Executed in the opening weeks of June 1888, Meules de blé is one of the first of this landmark series of harvest paintings from this time. This is the first occassion that it has been publicly exhibited since it was included in the landmark 1905 retrospective of the artist in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Picturing three towering wheat stacks that dwarf the neighboring women, this exquisitely rendered work depicts Arles in the throes of the harvest, the myriad lines and dashes, strokes and pools of color conveying the atmosphere of this mid-summer day with a striking vitality. Over the following weeks, Van Gogh created an astounding array of artworks, each one set aglow with the golden sun-scorched landscape. At the beginning of July he took stock of his achievement, writing to his brother Theo, “As for landscapes, I’m beginning to find that some, done more quickly than ever, are among the best things I do” (Letter 635, vol. 4, p. 159). Considered today among the greatest of his tragically short yet prolific career, these Arles landscapes mark, “the zenith, the climax, the greatest flowering of Van Gogh’s decade of artistic activity” (R. Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, p. 11).
Van Gogh had journeyed from Paris to Arles in February 1888. Though seeking a better climate to aid his health and looking to escape the freneticism of life in Paris, Van Gogh’s reasons for moving were far from being solely practical: he had the express desire to find a utopia, a Promised Land in which to discover a “Japan of the south.” Over the course of the spring, Van Gogh depicted various aspects of his new home—blossoming fruit orchards, the Langlois Bridge, and the Mediterranean seascapes at nearby Saintes-Maries.
Yet, as spring gave way to summer, it was to the harvest—a subject he had long revered—that Van Gogh turned. “It has become something quite different from in the spring,” he described his transformed surroundings, “but I certainly have no less love for nature that is starting to get scorched as early as now. There’s old gold, bronze, copper in everything now, you might say, and that, with the green blue of the sky heated white-hot, produces a delightful color which is exceedingly harmonious” (Letter 624, vol. 4, p. 124).
Van Gogh’s first mention of harvest scenes came on 12 June, when, writing to Theo he detailed, “I have two or three new drawings and also 2 or three new painted studies” (Letter 623, vol. 4, p. 117). One of these drawings was Meules de blé. Another was the very closely related Un mas de Provence, which pictures the same building seen from outside its stone walls, the vertiginous wheat stacks just visible inside the farmyard (Faille, no. 1478; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), as well as the more panoramic vista captured from the nearby plateau of La Crau, La moisson en Provence (Faille, no. 1483; Private collection). The oils or “painted studies” he mentioned have been identified as La porte de la ferme (Faille, no. 565; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Le champ de blé (Faille, no. 564; Private collection).
Just a few days later, Van Gogh returned to the same location as the present work, this time capturing the scene in oil (Faille, no. 425, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo). This inaugural group of harvest scenes take as their subject a walled farmhouse, which has been identified as the Mas de Griffeuille (T. Stranding and L. van Tilborgh, eds., exh. cat., op. cit., 2012 p. 106). Though seemingly rural, it was in fact located near Arles, just beyond the railroad tracks. Van Gogh sent the present work to Theo around the 15 June so he could visualize the oil. Van Gogh regarded both of these wheat stack works as pendants to the trio of harvest vistas he captured at the same time—two works on paper and one oil (Faille, no. 412; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and Faille, nos. 1483-1484; Private collection and Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge). The artist was clearly particularly happy with the composition of Meules de blé. Later in the summer he made two reed-pen drawings after this scene, which he sent as part of a group that summarized his latest work, to both Bernard and John Russell (Faille, nos. 1426-1427; Philadelphia Museum of Art and Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest).
That Van Gogh chose to embark on his harvest scenes both in oil paint and pen and ink, such as the present work, is a reflection of the importance that this medium held in Van Gogh’s life at this time. Drawing had once again come to the fore of his work a few months after his move to Arles. Having long been a central component of his oeuvre, it was here that his mastery of the medium took flight, as he created an astounding succession of masterpieces on paper such as the present work. Indeed, it was in Arles that the artist completely revolutionized this practice—moving it from its traditional role as a preparatory or initial part of the creative process, to become an independent means of expression.
Thanks to his obsession with Japonisme, which had not only led to his acquisition of a great number of Japanese woodcut prints, known as ukiyo-e, but had also been one of the leading motivations for his move to the south of France, Van Gogh had a deep understanding both of the handling of these works—rendered with bold, expressive calligraphic strokes that hover and dance to create both object and spatial setting, and colored with planes of bold pigment—as well as the flattened perspective with which the compositions were constructed.
These formal qualities found their way to the forefront of Van Gogh’s Arles output, enabling him to conceive a new and wholly distinct graphic style and to draw with the speed that he regarded as central to Japanese artists’ approach. “Not only in their material, but also in their making,” Colta Ives has written, “Van Gogh’s drawings seemed to bypass linearity altogether, offering images that appeared to have been fully formed somewhere else before landing on paper—an effect more akin to printing than to drawing” (“Out of Line: How Van Gogh Made his Mark” in exh. cat., op. cit., 2005, p. 17).
There were also practical reasons for Van Gogh’s adoption of drawing in Arles. In April, Theo, Van Gogh’s greatest confidant but also his primary means of financial support, was having difficulties with his employer, Boussod and Valadon, even considering moving to America. As a result, Van Gogh decided to focus on drawing as a way of saving on costly paint supplies, conscious also of retaining all the materials he could for the much longed for arrival of Paul Gauguin that would take place in the autumn. This medium also allowed him to defy the high winds of the mistral and continue working outdoors. A happy consequence of his renewed embrace of working on paper was a reduction of the pressure he felt when attempting to paint, allowing him to create more freely and spontaneously. “I wish paint was as little of a worry to work with as pen and paper. I often pass up a painted study for fear of wasting the color. With paper, whether it’s a letter I’m writing or a drawing I’m working on, there’s never a misfire” (Letter 638, vol. 4, p. 139).
In May however, Van Gogh, unable to resist the lure of color, wrote to Theo requesting a box of watercolors. “The reason,” he wrote, “is because I’d like to do some pen drawings, but colored in flat tints like Japanese prints” (Letter 614, vol. 4, p. 95). For his initial depictions of the harvest, such as Meules de blé, Van Gogh embraced this technique, creating not simply a preparatory study for the oil paintings that in the case of the present work followed, but an independent work which subsequently inspired his return to the same motif.
In Meules de blé, Van Gogh first rendered the extraordinary array of calligraphic lines, marks, dashes and dots that delineate this rural scene, before adding watercolor and gouache, filling the sheet with dazzling color. This perfect synergy between line and color, brush and pen, demonstrates Van Gogh effortless ability to move between these media and methods. He was able to pick up details such as the chickens and the fleur-de-lis emblem on the farmhouse, as well as impart a sense of dynamism through the multiple lines—the wheat stacks seem to quiver precariously, charged with presence. Yet, at the same time, with gouache and watercolor, he has captured the sun-soaked ocher color of the farmhouses and the endless azure realm of the Provençal skies with nebulous passages of paint. This work perfectly demonstrates Van Gogh’s newfound assurance; his marks unhesitating and instinctive as he imbued the composition with an extraordinary sense of light, movement, and vitality.
At first glance, Meules de blé appears to be a scene of everyday life during the harvest. Yet, for Van Gogh, nature was always invested with a deeper meaning. He regarded farm laborers, their activities, and their association with the ever-recurring cycle of sowing, growth, and reaping with a fervent devotion, and had for many years felt an affiliation with them. As he wrote to Bernard at the time he was working on the harvest works, “I don’t hide from you that I don’t detest the countryside—having been brought up there, snatches of memories from past times, yearnings for that infinite of which the Sower, the sheaf, are the symbols, still enchant me as before” (Letter 628, vol. 4, p. 137).
In the present work, the Millet-esque women who are bent over picking sheaves of wheat from the grass encapsulate this idea. Indeed, Van Gogh recognized that his moment of intense creativity, as he toiled to depict the harvest, was correspondent to the laborers’ own rush to reap their crops. By focusing solely on his work and existing amid nature itself—just as the peasants themselves did—Van Gogh glimpsed a means to attain his own, long-sought after peace. “But during the harvest my work has been no easier than that of the farmers themselves who do this harvesting,” he wrote to Theo on 1 July. “Far from my complaining about it, it’s precisely at these moments in artistic life, even if it’s not the real one, that I feel almost as happy as I could be in the ideal, the real life” (Letter 635, vol. 4, p. 159).
After having been owned by Theo and Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, as well as the painter and distinguished collector, Gustave Fayet, Meules de blé was acquired by Max Meirowsky (1866-1949).
Meirowsky was an industrialist, manufacturing isolators for the growing railway, automobile and electronics industries of the turn of the century, who lived first in Cologne and later in Berlin. From around 1910, Meirowsky amassed a substantial art collection encompassing French, German and Swiss Impressionists and Post-Impressionists as well as earlier works of art and decorative arts. He bought through key dealers of the time such as Cassirer and Thannhauser in Germany and Eugène Druet and Bernheim-Jeune in France. In 1913, Meirowsky purchased the luminous Meules de blé at the Galerie Druet in Paris and it became one of the crown jewels of his collection.
During the Nazi regime in Germany, Max Meirowsky faced anti-Jewish persecution, leading to the sale of art from his collection. In late 1938 Meirowsky fled Germany for Amsterdam and then on to Geneva. It was on this journey, that Meirowsky entrusted Meules de blé to the German émigré dealership Paul Graupe & Cie., then active in Paris.
Meules de blé then entered the Parisian collection of Miriam Caroline Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965). Alexandrine, a student of medicine, had inherited part of her art collection from her father Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934) and was a respected collector in her own right, particularly of literary and musical manuscripts and first editions, as well as eighteenth century art. From the mid-1930s, Alexandrine de Rothschild acquired several paintings and works on paper by Post-Impressionist artists, including important works by Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Alexandrine fled to Switzerland. Her art collection in Paris, including Van Gogh’s Meules de blé, was confiscated by the Nazi regime during the Occupation. In the post-war years, Alexandrine sought to trace and recover her looted art collection and library, but while she was able to recover some works, many others remained missing, including Meules de blé.

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