Cypresses: Although the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s career as an artist lasted only from 1880 to1890, this Post-Impressionist painter influenced 20th-century art. In a mere ten years, the list of Van Gogh’s paintings grew to more than 900 artworks. And apart from the 900 paintings, he also created more than 1,100 drawings and sketches.
Two of his series – one consisting of olive tree paintings and another consisting of cypresses – are regarded by art historians as his most important artwork and were created while he was on his own request in an asylum at the end of his life.
In this article, we’ll briefly have a look at the life of Vincent van Gogh and then discuss his olive tree and cypress paintings and look at two of these paintings in more detail.
More about Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) created in his short artistic career of only ten years about 2,100 artworks. As a child, he was always thoughtful and began drawing early. As a young man, he traveled a lot while working for an art dealer. When he was transferred to London, he became depressed and decided to leave the art environment and turn to religion. He then worked as a Protestant missionary in southern Belgium.
In 1881, however, he took up painting as a full-time career. His younger brother supported him financially. But Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and often neglected his physical health. During one of his psychotic episodes, he severed a part of his left ear with a razor.
During his life, he spent some time in psychiatric hospitals. His last stay in an asylum was at his request, and he discharged himself. It is believed that after he had discharged himself, he shot himself in the chest. Two days later, he died.
Outdoor Paintings at the Asylum
From May 1889 until May 1890, Vincent van Gogh lived at his request in an asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. During his stay in the asylum, he was allowed to go outside its walls to the olive trees, cypresses, and wheat fields.
Most famous Vincent van Gogh artwork was created in this period. During his stay in the asylum, he painted at least 15 paintings with olive trees as subjects and different versions of the cypress trees.
The period in the asylum was also one of the most productive periods in his life. In total, he painted over 150 canvases between May 1889 and May 1890.
Olive Tree Paintings
Most of the Vincent van Gogh drawings describe a “feeling” he had or reflect his “state of mind” at that specific time. Vincent van Gogh’s artwork almost always has a symbolic value as well. Thus, one can expect that Van Gogh’s paintings of olive trees had a special meaning.
According to art scholars, the olive tree paintings created in May 1889 were created when Van Gogh questioned the worth of life. The olive trees in those paintings represent the cycle of life. Van Gogh painted the paintings created in November of the same year to symbolize his feelings about Christ in Gethsemane.
The olive pickers in these paintings symbolize the relationship between man and nature by depicting life, harvesting, and death cycles. The pickers are also an example of how, according to Van Gogh, individuals can connect with the divine through communion with nature. Many paintings with “Olive Trees” as part of the title are to be found in the list of Vincent van Gogh paintings names.
A very special Olive Tree Painting – “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun.”
“Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun” is on most art lovers’ famous Van Gogh paintings list. During Van Gogh’s stay in the asylum, he sat during the day and night in the olive groves outside the walls of the asylum, trying to relate the interplay of light and shade to the symbolism of the olive tree. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh called this specific olive tree painting the daylight partner of his other famous painting, “The Starry Night.”
Van Gogh used a vibrant color palette for this painting and succeeded in bringing life to this sunny landscape. The earth is red-brown and orange in the painting, and the sun casts a light blue and black shadow on it. Van Gogh colored the tree trunks brown with marked contours in black.
The background mountains form a small area of the painting and are painted in light blue, indicating that they are in shadow. The sky is bright yellow with a sun. The sun is depicted with an orange halo.
Van Gogh’s Painting – “Cypresses”
One of the most well-known paintings mentioned when art lovers discuss Vincent van Gogh’s paintings is “Cypresses.”
This painting was also painted when Van Gogh was allowed to paint outside the asylum’s walls. He felt that this tree reflected some of his emotions. Vincent van Gogh saw the tree as the darkness in a sunny landscape. Van Gogh developed a great fascination with the shapes and movement of the cypress tree and painted it. He liked this tree so much that he painted it more than once.
He also included this tree in his other landscapes, such as “Wheatfield with Cypress I” and “Cypresses with Two Women.”
According to a letter to his brother, he found it very difficult to achieve the shade of green of the tree. Ultimately, he captured the green by contrasting it with the light landscape. Van Gogh included a yellow crescent moon on the light blue sky and added white and gray clouds. He created a sense of movement in the painting.
“Cypresses” is an example of a painting made en Plein air, meaning it was completely painted outside and was not one of the Vincent van Gogh drawings completed indoors.
Van Gogh’s two series of olive trees and cypresses were part of the last 150 works he painted in the asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. They are regarded as the best works created by Vincent van Gogh. Although the paintings were created while he was in an asylum, the paintings are full of symbolism and reveal to a large extent, the geniality of Van Gogh