Julius Meier-Graefe, Berlin (probably by 1899)
Jos. Hessel, Paris (by 1901)
Paul Cassirer, Berlin (on consignment 1914-18)
Galerie Georges Bernheim, Paris
Galerie Flechtheim, Düsseldorf
F. Haniel, Wistinghausen
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid and Lefevre Ltd.), London
Mrs. J.B.A. Kessler, London (acquired by 1930 and sold: Sotheby's, London, June 24, 1997, lot 7)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Vincent van Gogh, 1901, no. 66
Paris, Galerie E. Druet, Vincent van Gogh, 1909, no. 23
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, Vincent van Gogh, 1914, no. 76a
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid and Lefevre Ltd.), Renoir and the Post-Impressionists, 1930, no. 15
London, National Gallery, 19th Century French Paintings, 1943, no. 76
London, Wildenstein & Co., The Kessler Collection, 19th and 20th Century French Masters, 1948, no. 30
Leicester, Leichestershire Museums and Art Galleries, The Kessler Collection, 1986-87, no. 11
Julius Meier-Graefe, Germinal, Berlin, 1899, illustrated in a color lithograph
Julius Meier-Graefe, Vincent van Gogh, vol. II, Munich, 1922, illustrated pl. 43
Kurt Pfister, Van Gogh, sein Werk, Potsdam, 1922, illustrated pl. 19
Louis Piérard, La vie tragique de Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1924, illustrated opposite p. 112
Florent Fels, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1928, p. 148
Hans Tietze, Vincent van Gogh, Vienna, 1928, illustrated pl. 4
Jacob-Baart de la Faille, L'Oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh, Catalogue raisonné, vol. 3, Paris, 1928, no. 1483, catalogued p. 146; vol. 4, part 2, no. 1483, illustrated pl. CLXVI
Vincent van Gogh, Briefe an Emile Bernard und Paul Gauguin, Basel, 1929, illustrated pl. 96
Mark Roskill, "Vincent van Gogh's 'Blue cart' and His Creative Process," Oud Holland, Amsterdam, 1966, illustrated p. 10
Jacob-Baart de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, His Paintings and Drawings, London, 1970, no. F1483, illustrated p. 516
Paolo Lecaldano, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Van Gogh, Tome II, 1888-1890, Milan, 1971, no. 523a, illustrated p. 209
Jacques Lassaigne, Vincent van Gogh, Milan, 1974, no. 3, illustrated p. 43
Jan Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, New York, 1980, no. 1439, illustrated p. 326
Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, discussed p. 93
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin, Zwolle, 1988, no. F1483, illustrated p. 135
Vincent van Gogh, Drawings, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, 1990, discussed pp. 225-27
Jacob-Baart de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, The Complete Works on Paper, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, San Francisco, 1992, no. 1483, catalogued p. 146; vol. II, illustrated pl. CLXVI
Jan Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, no. 1439, illustrated p. 333
Van Gogh executed this panoramic view of the landscape outside Arles, looking northeast across the plain of La Crau, in early June 1888. Described by Ronald Pickvance as "[one] of his most marvelous paintings" (Vincent van Gogh Drawings, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, 1990, p. 225), it simultaneously expresses the artist's first impassioned response to the colors of the Provençal summer, and his remarkable command of the reed-pen as an expressive instrument of draughtsmanship.
Historians are divided as to whether the sequence of works which van Gogh executed on the subject of the harvest in the plain of La Crau in early June 1888 should be dated before or after his visit to the coast at Saintes Marie de la Mer. Ronald Pickvance says that they were executed after this trip, which ended on June 3 (Pickvance, op. cit., p. 225); Jan Hulsker, on the other hand, maintains that this visit did not take place until the week of June 17-22, and the harvest series therefore predates it (Hulsker, 1890, op. cit., p. 326). Either way their sequence is less open to debate. In letter 496 van Gogh reports to Theo that he has completed two drawings of the harvest and is now beginning a painting. The first work was the watercolor in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (La Moisson en Provence, F1484; see fig. 1); the second was the present work; and the oil was La Moisson in the van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (F412, see fig. 2). For van Gogh this oil, also known as La Charette Bleue, was the masterpiece of his Arles period. In letter 498 to Theo he wrote: "It kills everything else I have." Later in the summer the artist returned to the subject to produce two smaller pen and ink 'afterthoughts' on the same view (La Moisson en Provence, F1485, Nationalgalerie Berlin, see fig. 3; La Moisson en Provence, F1486, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., see fig. 4).
"I wish everyone would come south like me," wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo in May (letter 495), and indeed the summer of 1888 was a remarkable phase in the artist's life. In Arles not only did he discover the power of color, but he also flowered as a draughtsman, producing some of his most beautiful works on paper. "I must draw a great deal," he wrote later in the same letter, "... things here have so much line. And I want to get my drawing more spontaneous, more exaggerated."
Much of the virtuosity of this work lies in the variety of media employed by the artist to capture the different effects of the receding landscape. The bare contours of the view and its horizon were initially delineated in pencil, broadly sketched in as a skeletal map of the plain before him. Its natural forms were then given detail and substance in ink, a process that permitted the artist to display the full range of his exceptional ability with the pen. He continued to use the thin quill for the finer lines in the distance, but one of the revelations for van Gogh upon arriving in Arles in February had been the quality of the locally grown reeds used for drawing. The variation in breadth and intensity of line that he found he could achieve enormously increased the expressiveness of his draughtsmanship. Thus in the present picture the swirling foliage of the foreground contrasts with the more delicate lines of the harvest fields in the middle distance, different again from the sublime lightness of touch achieved in the rolling clouds. Van Gogh's ardent admiration for Japanese art was undoubtedly an influence here, with the difference that van Gogh was attempting with a pen nib the effects that the Japanese attained with a brush.
The final stage in the creation of the present work came with the application of color superimposed in layers of watercolor and gouache. The vivid range of colors so distinctive of summer in Provence impressed van Gogh deeply. Soon after finishing La Moisson en Provence he wrote: "Essentially the color is exquisite here. When the green leaves are fresh, it is a rich green, the like of which we seldom see in the North. When it gets scorched and dusty, it does not lose its beauty, for then the landscape gets tones of gold of various tints, green-gold, pink-gold, and in the same way bronze-copper, in short starting from citron yellow all the way to a dull dark yellow color like a heap of threshed corn, for instance. And this combined with the blue- from the deepest royal blue of the water to the blue of the forget-me-nots, cobalt, particularly clear, bright blue - green-blue and violet-blue. Of course this calls up orange - a sunburned face gives the impression of orange. Furthermore, on account of the many yellow hues, violet gets a quick emphasis; a cane fence or a gray thatched roof or a dug-up field makes a much more violet impression than at home" (Letter W4 to his sister Wilhelmina, mid-June 1888). The decision to introduce the highly prized element of color in the present work is a measure of its importance in the artist's eyes. By definition it becomes something more than a pen and ink drawing, something closer to a painting, but in so doing it loses none of its calligraphic power.
Van Gogh arrived in Arles from Paris on February 20, 1888 and spent the spring scouring his new surroundings for suitable views to paint. The subject of this drawing, the plain of La Crau, fascinated him from the moment he saw it. In May he discovered the abbey of Montmajour, set on a hill some two miles northeast of Arles. This ruined monument appealed to his imagination, and he drew it several times from various angles. It features in the present work in the upper left of the composition, seen across the plain, with the foothills known as the Alpilles drawn across the horizon behind it. In a letter of June 12, van Gogh describes the composition of the present work as follows: "... fields green and yellow as far as the eye can reach ... It is exactly like Salomon Konnink - you know, the pupil of Rembrandt, who painted vast level plains" (letter 496).
The parallels to seventeenth-century Dutch painting were both a reassurance and a stimulus to him. Not long after, he wrote again to Theo: "I have already said more than once how much the Camargue and La Crau, except for the difference in color and in the limpidity of the atmosphere, make me think of the old Holland of Ruysdael's time ... the fascination that these huge plains have for me is very strong ... I walked there with a painter, and he said, 'There is something that would be boring to paint.' Yet I went fully fifty times to Mont Majour to look at this flat landscape, and was I wrong? I went for a walk there with someone else who was not a painter, and when I said to him, 'Look, to me that is as beautiful and as infinite as the sea,' he said - and he knows the sea- 'For my part I like this better than the sea, because it is no less infinite, and yet you feel that it is inhabited' " (letter 509).
The human content of the landscape is an important element for van Gogh. The figures engaged in the various activities of harvesting give the subject an added resonance. The harvest was a theme dear to the artist's heart, linked into his appreciation of the changing seasons and their effect on the land. Simultaneously, Roskill points out, the figures themselves act as 'pathfinders' or 'presences' in the structure of the composition, stabilizing it in the artist's mind and eye.
The present work, although characterized by de la Faille as "the Cartoon" for the Van Gogh Museum oil, does not relate to it as the term might imply. Pickvance describes the way drawings of this period enter into "mysterious liaisons" with paintings of the same subject. He writes, "These mysterious liaisons take on several guises. The crux of the matter is the phenomenon of alternative recordings or 'takes' of a motif. Often, on discovering or deciding, after long contemplation on a motif, van Gogh would both draw and paint it" (Pickvance, op. cit., p. 234). The present work with its freshness and spontaneity, with its differences both of detail and of angle of view, thus represents an entirely separate, earlier confrontation with the motif that achieves, in Pickvance's words, a certain parity with the related painting. Moreover, Roskill argues convincingly that the present work was one of three drawings sent to Theo van Gogh in the middle of June 1888. Identified as "La Moisson" and mentioned in letter 498, van Gogh described it as "plus serieuse" than the other two (Roskill , op. cit., pp. 4 & 5).
The first recorded owner was the eminent German connoisseur and pioneer of appreciation of van Gogh, Julius Meier-Graefe. It is likely that he acquired it no later than 1899 because in that year he commissioned a colored lithograph of it by E.R. Weiss for an edition of Prints of Modern Pictures that he published under the title of 'Germinal'.
In a letter of 17 March 2003, the Van Gogh Museum confirmed the authenticity of La Moisson en Provence and offered the following observations about the technique: "Van Gogh started this watercolor by making a sketch of the composition in pencil. He worked over the first layout with pen and brown ink. Finally, he applied opaque watercolor in at least eight different colours to this pen and ink drawing. This procedure illustrates the artist's plan mentioned in a letter to his brother Theo from the end of May 1888 - to make pen drawings like Japanese prints by colouring them with watercolour (letter 616/491)."
Fig. 1, Vincent van Gogh, La Charrette Bleue, pen, pastel and watercolor on paper, June 1888, F1484, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Fig. 2, Vincent van Gogh, Jardins de Maraîchers, oil on canvas, June 1888, F412, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Fig. 3, Vincent van Gogh, La Moisson en Provence, pen and India ink on paper, circa 1888, F1485, Nationalgalerie Berlin
Fig. 4, Vincent van Gogh, La Moisson en Provence, India ink on paper, circa 1888, F1486, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
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