Vincent van Gogh - The Sower 1888

The Sower 1888
The Sower
Oil on burlap on canvas 73.5 x 93.0 cm. Arles: November, 1888
Zurich: Foundation E.G. Bührle

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From Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich:
In The Sower at Sunset, Vincent van Gogh returned to a motif that he had tackled several times since his move to Arles, in the south of France, in 1888. In contrast to earlier versions, the composition of the painting in the Bührle Collection draws the eye firmly to the figure of the sower. His silhouette is balanced by an almost equally dark tree trunk on the right, cropped at the top and bottom of the picture. Both are seen directly against the light of the setting sun, which, vastly enlarged as it nears the horizon, glows like a halo behind the sower's bowed head. The level fields and the sky are saturated with colour, predominantly hues of green and violet. This work dates from a period when Paul Gauguin was staying in Arles at van Gogh's invitation, the two of them painting together. In this context it can be seen as a revealing response in which van Gogh disassociates himself from the work of his friend and rival. Gauguin's paintings from the days in Arles are characterised by an attempt to merge figures and their surroundings into one large common pattern. Van Gogh's Sower, in contrast, derives its power from the succinct juxtaposition of figure and landscape. He was so pleased with this work that he signed it, quite against his usual practice. The large Sower at Sunset occupies a special place in van Gogh's oeuvre. Its presence in the Bührle Collection is indicative of the high standards that Emil Bührle set himself. Painters who interested him were to be embedded in his collection with works that would be acknowledged as encapsulating the essence of their art.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 5 or Wednesday, 6 June 1888.
My dear Theo —
If Gauguin wants to accept, and if the only obstacle to going into business would be the travel, it’s better not to keep him waiting. So I’ve written, although I hardly had the time, having two canvases on the easel. If you think the letter’s clear enough, send it, if not, it would be better for us, too, to abstain when in doubt. And the things you would do for him shouldn’t upset the plan to bring our sisters over, and especially not our needs, yours and mine. Because if we ourselves don’t keep ourselves in a state of vigour, how can we claim the right to get involved in other people’s troubles? But at present we’re on the way to remaining vigorous, and so let’s do the possible, what’s right in front of us. I’m sending you enclosed herewith canvas sample for Tasset; however, I don’t know if we should go on with his canvas.
If you send me the next letter by Sunday morning, I’ll probably go off to Saintes-Maries again at 1 o’clock that day and spend the week there.
I’m reading a book about Wagner which I’ll send you afterwards — what an artist — one like that in painting, now that would be something. It will come.
Do you know that at

6 rue Coëllogon, rue de Rennes,
on 7 and 8 June from 1 to 7 o’clock
there’s an exhibition of paintings and drawings by

that could be very interesting; now there’s two who’ve travelled all over the place, he and his brother.
Ever yours,

I believe in the victory of Gauguin and other artists — but — between then and now there’s a long time, and even if he had the good fortune to sell one or two canvases — it would be the same story. While waiting, Gauguin could peg out like Meryon, discouraged. It’s bad that he’s not working — well, we’ll see his reply.