Vincent van Gogh - Cypresses 1889

Cypresses 1889
Oil on canvas 93.3 x 74.0 cm. Saint-Rémy: June, 1889
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

« previous picture | Saint-Rémy | next picture »

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA:
Cypresses was painted in late June 1889, shortly after Van Gogh began his yearlong stay at the asylum in Saint-Rémy. The subject, which he found "beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk," both captivated and challenged the artist: "It’s the dark patch in a sun-drenched landscape, but it’s one of the most interesting dark notes, the most difficult to hit off exactly that I can imagine." One of two close-up views of the "very tall and massive" trees in a vertical format (the other is in the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo), Cypresses was shown in the 1890 Salon des Indépendants.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Paul Gauguin to Vincent van Gogh. Pont-Aven, on or about Wednesday, 26 September 1888.
My dear Vincent
I’m very late in replying to you; but what can I say, my sickly state and my worries often leave me in a state of prostration, in which I sink into inaction. If you were familiar with my life you would understand that after having struggled so much (in every way) I’m in the process of drawing breath, and at the moment I’m lying dormant. Your idea for an exchange, to which I haven’t yet replied, appeals to me, and I’ll do the portrait you want, but not yet. I’m not in a fit state to do it, seeing that it’s not a copy of a face that you want, but a portrait as I understand it. I’m studying young Bernard, and I don’t have him yet. I shall perhaps do it from memory, but in any case it will be an abstraction. Perhaps tomorrow, I don’t know, it will come to me all at once. At the moment there’s a spell of fine weather which is leading us both to try lots of things.
I’ve just done a religious painting, very badly done, but which was interesting to do, and which I like. I wanted to give it to the church at Pont-Aven. They don’t want it, of course.
Breton women, grouped together, are praying; costumes very intense black. The yellow-white bonnets very luminous. The two bonnets on the right are like monstrous helmets. An apple tree goes across the canvas: dark purple, and the foliage drawn in masses like emerald green clouds, with yellow-green interstices of sunlight. The earth (pure vermilion). At the church it goes down and becomes red brown.
The angel is dressed in violent ultramarine blue, and Jacob in bottle green. The angel’s wings pure no. 1 chrome yellow. The angel’s hair no. 2 chrome, and the feet flesh-orange.2 I believe I’ve achieved a great rustic and superstitious simplicity in the figures. The whole very severe. The cow under the tree is tiny by comparison with reality, and is prancing. For me, the landscape and the wrestling exist only in the imagination of the people at prayer after the sermon; that’s why there’s a contrast between the real people and the wrestling in its landscape, not real and out of proportion.
In your letter you seem angry at our laziness about the portrait, and that pains me; friends don’t get angry with each other (at a distance, words cannot be interpreted at their true value).
Another thing. You turn the dagger in the wound when you do all you can to prove to me that I must come to the south, given that I’m suffering on account of not being there at this moment. When you suggested that I go there as part of your partnership I categorically wrote you a last letter in the affirmative, happy at your brother’s offer. There’s no question for me of creating a studio in the north, since every day I hope for a sale that will allow me to leave here. The people who are feeding me here, the doctor who treated me, did it on credit and wouldn’t hold back a single painting, a single piece of clothing, and are faultless towards me — I can’t leave them without committing a bad deed that would trouble me enormously. If they were either rich or thieves, it would mean nothing to me. So I shall wait. On the other hand, if when the day came you were otherwise disposed, and you had to say to me, Too late..... I’d prefer that you did it right away.

I’m fearful that your brother, who likes my talent, rates it too highly. If he found a collector or speculator who was tempted by low prices, let him do it. I’m a man of sacrifices, and I’d like him to understand that whatever he does, I’ll find it well done.
Young Bernard will shortly be taking several canvases of mine to Paris.
Laval expects to come and find me in the south towards the month of February. He’s found someone who’ll pay him 150 francs a month for a year.
It appears to me now, my dear Vincent, that you’re getting your sums wrong. I know the prices in the south; aside from the restaurant, I undertake to keep the household going on 200 francs a month, with food for three. I have kept house, and I know how to get by.
All the more so with four. As far as accommodation goes; apart from yours, Laval and Bernard could have a small furnished room nearby. I like the way you picture your house and its arrangement, and my mouth is watering to see it.
Ah well! As far as possible I don’t want to think any more about the promised fruit. Waiting for better times, unless I’m released from this lousy existence, which, aside from work, weighs on me so horribly.
Cordially yours,
P. Gauguin