Through most of his life Vincent van Gogh suffered greatly from some form of mental illness, according to writer Philip Vickers the illness “was probably epilepsy.” Because of this illness van Gogh lived in the small French village of Auvers where he spent the last months of his life, while creating some his most monumental works that include Starry Night, Wheat Fields Under Clouded Ski, Wheat Field with Crows, The Church at Auvers, and Vineyards at Auvers. Vincent stayed in Auvers at the Ravoux Inn until his suicide in July of 1890.
Vincent had the unique ability to paint things as he they were viewed through his psyche. He had an emphasis on what was relative to his mind although not so to others who viewed these paintings. Many images of van Gogh are inanimate objects that possess characteristics normally not associated with a church, cypress tree, or night sky.
Vineyards at Auvers an oil on canvas is a Post-Impressionistic work measuring about 16 X 22 inches, and like many of van Gogh’s works it gives a remarkable look at the French countryside; however, this image is conveyed in less than traditional style. The passionate use of the brush creates an extremely rough and unfinished look while viewing the work closely. Beautiful greens and browns are used to accent the foreground of grasses and pastures while a meandering picket fence seems to stroll across the countryside like a weary traveler seeking refuge from the elements.
The fence gives both dimension and motion to the work. It begins in the foreground near heraldic left of the painting angling toward the center and then taking a subtle line toward the heraldic left once again before disappearing off the canvas. Another fence or stonewall crosses the center of the panting again breaking up the different crops and grasses of the landscape. This wall does have character, but does not possess the human emotion conveyed thru the picket fence.
The greens and browns used to signify the vineyards look more like a series of dots and dashes not dissimilar to those used in Morse code. Other examples of brushwork bear a striking resemblance to the “axe cut strokes” used in different forms of Asian Art.
Along the heraldic right of this painting is a very tall area of underbrush or some sort of living fence frames this portion off from the winding road trailing off into the city of Auvers. Cottages with thatch roofs dominate this portion of the work before following the road into the background where cottages and other buildings take hold of the work while improving its depth of field. Southern Frances rolling hills are visible in the distance. This has two possible influences, perhaps has a reminder of where this work was painting is staged and the influence southern France had on van Gogh’s life, or a less personalized influence from the Monumental painting style.
Many art historians have shown interest in the area of France near Auvers because of its historical significance to the life and death of van Gogh. Over one hundred years after van Gogh painted Vineyards at Auvers Philip Vickers wanted to see if the subject of this as well as the sites painted in other works by van Gogh from 1889-1890 were still in existence. Upon his arrival to this area Vickers discovered that almost nothing had changed in the last century in Auvers. The church that van Gogh painted with a “living thing, pulsating with spiritual life” still exists, but has one addition. A tiny sign with an arrow reads: Tomveau de Vincent van Gogh leads one behind the church to the cemetery where sits the ivy covered last resting place of Vincent van Gogh. How fitting that a man with such passion for his works can now have immortality thru one of his most popular images.
Vineyards at Auvers is a unique van Gogh because it does not show distorted people working the land as in so many other landscapes he painted. It also does not contain the crows Vincent often painted thought his life. Incidentally, this work does show the masterful craft of van Gogh during a time of his life where his pain was very clear in his works. Vincent thought he had lived has a failure; however the images of the demons that haunted him will never be cloaked in failure again because of his legacy as an innovator in the world of art.