|Wheat Field and Cypress Trees|
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is one of history’s most influential artists. His work and style is easily recognizable, even among those with a limited interest in art. I chose his painting, Wheat Field and Cypress Trees for a recent critique assignment. Van Gogh used oils as his medium and canvas as his support for this landscape which measures 28 ½ by 36 inches. The original, painted in 1889, is on display at the National Gallery in London, England. The painting depicts a natural landscape consisting of a wheat field, cypress trees, distant mountains, and a cloudy sky. The painting is impressionistic in style matching the new bright palette of colors used by the Impressionist artists of Van Gogh’s day, but he takes Impressionism to the next level with his use of expressive color, texture, and line.
The majority of the painting is painted in middle tones with the exception of the dark contrasting cypress trees. There is cool color dominance throughout the piece except for the warm yellows of the wheat field. Van Gogh uses an analogous color scheme of yellow, green, and blue with green being the dominate color. These colors next to each other on the color wheel plus white give the piece a color harmony with a limited palette. Arial perspective is evident in the mountains as the cool pale blues push them back into the distance. The horizon is set on the lower third of the canvas and the elements are designed in such a manner to lead the eye throughout the painting and straight to the focal point… the cypress trees. The eye travels along the color contrast of the grass up the right and then to the left where it slows at the subordinate element of the smaller rounded bushes… From there the eye moves along the diagonal line of the mountains and stops at the strong vertical of the cypress trees. This point is the center of interest and is emphasized by being the darkest point on the canvas. The eyes then dance a while in the circular strokes of the clouds only to be funneled back to the focal point of the cypress trees. There is an asymmetrical balance to the painting created by the tall dark conical shape of the cypress trees and the small rounded shape of the bushes to the left. There is a rhythm in the sky area with the repetition of swirling strokes.
As I view Wheat Fields and Cypress Trees, I get the sense that I am there standing in the field feeling the wind blowing on my face. I can see the wheat swaying and the clouds rolling. This effect is echoed in Van Gogh’s brushwork as each stroke seems to move. The impasto texture only adds to this sensation for me. It’s as if Van Gogh wants me to feel the sensations he felt while painting this! I do not know if he painted this “en plein aire” (on location) but I’m sure that it was at least done from plein air studies and/or memories of the open air… it suggests that to strongly not to have been experienced firsthand.
Wheat Fields and Cypress Trees and other works by Vincent Van Gogh stand out in a crowd as compared to other works of his and our time. Van Gogh’s use of impasto texture, linear stokes that followed the contour of shapes like clouds, grass, hillsides, etc., plus his uses of expressive color make his work unique. These techniques impacted his work so much that it became an easily identifiable style… his style. His work wasn’t accepted in his time because the public had never seen anything like it but it has had a major impact on the world and art ever since. I feel this painting was successful even though it was ahead of its time. Would I change anything on this painting to make it better?... Heck no! It speaks to me as is!
Some say Van Gogh was crazy but I call him a genius. For me, Wheat Fields and Cypress Trees embodies enjoying nature at its fullest. It has a “stop and smell the roses” attitude. Was that what Van Gogh was trying to convey? I think so!
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