Lot 14
  • 14

Vincent van Gogh

50,000,000 - 70,000,000 USD
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  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Paysage sous un ciel mouvement√©
  • Oil on canvas
  • 23 3/4 by 29 in.
  • 60. 5 by 73.7 cm


Theo van Gogh, Paris (the artist's brother; acquired July 15, 1889)

Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam (widow of the above; inherited in 1891)

Dr. Willem J. Leuring, The Hague (acquired from the above in 1901 and until at least 1905)

Galerie Druet, Paris (in 1908)

(possibly) Amedée Schuffenecker, Meudon

(possibly) Galerie E. Blot, Paris

Marczell von Nemes, Budapest (acquired before 1912 and sold: Paris, Hotel Drouot, November 21, 1918, lot 45)

P. Voûte Jr., Amsterdam

Galerie Johann N. H. Eisenloeffel, Amsterdam

Harry S. Southam, Ottawa (1928 and until at least 1934)

W. Scott & Son, Montreal (acquired from the above)

Alex. Reid and Lefevre (The Lefevre Gallery), London & Bignou Gallery, New York (probably acquired from the above by 1938 and until circa 1944)

Galerie Moos, Geneva (acquired by 1948)

Acquired from the above by 1955


The Hague, Kunstkring, 1892, no. 29

Rotterdam, Oldenzeel, 1904, no. 67

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1905, no. 154

Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, Centenaire de la peinture francaise, 1928 

Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; Toronto, Toronto Art Gallery & Montreal, Art Association, French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, 1934, no. 61, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Bignou Gallery, London, Alex. Reid and Lefevre (The Lefevre Gallery), The Tragic Painters, 1938, no. 3 (New York) and no. 41 (London), illustrated in the catalogue (dated March 1890)

Bristol, Royal Hotel, French Painting of the 19th and 20th Centuries, 1938, no. 38

New York, Bignou Gallery, Significant Landmarks of Nineteenth Century French Paintings, 1939, no. 10, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Alex. Reid and Lefevre (The Lefevre Gallery), Milestones in French Painting, 1939, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue (dated March 1890)

New York, Bignou Gallery, The Post Impressionists, 1940, no. 10

Houston, McMillen Gallery, Vincent Van Gogh and other famous French Painters, 1941, no. 6, illustrated on the cover

New York, Bignou Gallery, Ancient Chinese and Modern European Paintings, 1943, no. 27

Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Kunst van Heden, 1955, no. 172

Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Van Gogh, 2000, no. 74, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Vienna, Albertina, Van Gogh, Heartfelt Lines, 2008, no. 102, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Kunstmuseum Basel, Vincent van Gogh, Zwischen Erde und Himmel, Die Landschaften, 2009, no. 48, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Denver Art Museum, Becoming van Gogh, 2012, no. 82, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Madrid, Museu Thyssen-Bornemisza, Impressionism and Open-Air Painting, From Corot to Van Gogh, 2013

Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Van Gogh, Artaud. Le suicidé de la société, 2014, no. 43, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, 1997-2015 (on loan)


Druet Photo, 1914, no. 3316

The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, New York, 1958, LT 584 & 600; B3

Julius Meier-Graefe, Vincent, Munich 1922, vol. II, illustrated pl. 26

Victor Doiteau & Edgard Leroy, La folie de Van Gogh, Paris, 1928, illustrated p. 113

Jacob Baart de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh, Catalogue Raisonné, Paris & Brussels, 1928, no. 575, illustrated

Julius Meier-Graefe, Vincent Van Gogh, New York, 1933, illustrated pl. 17

Clarence J. Bulliet, The Significant Moderns and their Pictures, New York, 1936, illustrated pl. 64

Willem Scherjon & W. Josiah de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise (Complete Catalogue), Amsterdam, 1937, no. 100, illustrated p. 129 (titled Meadow Spangled with Dandelions)

George Slocombe, Rebels of Art, New York, 1939, illustrated pl. 20

Jacob-Baart de la Faille & Charles Terrasse, Vincent van Gogh, 1939, no. 585 (F.575), illustrated  p. 406 (titled Landscape Under a Stormy Sky)

Art Digest, New York, March 1, 1939, illustrated

Art News, New York, November 15, 1942, illustrated p. 14

Louis Hautecoeur, Van Gogh, Monaco, 1946, illustrated p. 92

Jacob-Baart de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh, his Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, no. 575, illustrated p. 240 (titled Landscape Under a Stormy Sky)

Paolo Lecaldano, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Van Gogh, Paris, 1971, vol. II, no. 496, illustrated p. 207

Jan Hulsker, The Complete van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, no. 1422, illustrated p. 322

Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers, New York, 1986, illustrated pp. 293 & 295

Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986, illustrated p. 295

Ingo F. Walther & Rainer Metzger, Vincent van Gogh, Sämtliche Gemälde, Cologne, 1989, vol. II , illustrated in color p. 338 (French edition, 1994, ditto) (titled Landscape Under a Stormy Sky)

Jan Hulsker, The Complete van Gogh, Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, no. 1422, illustrated p. 322

Fondation Pierre Gianadda, ed., Collection Louis et Evelyn Franck, Zurich, 1998, illustrated in color p. 51

Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten & Nienke Bakker, eds., The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Arles, 1888-1889, vol. IV, Brussels, 2009, illustrated in color p. 429

Walter Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh, The Years in France, Complete Paintings 1886-1890, London, 2013, illustrated in color p. 179

Catalogue Note

Van Gogh's dramatically atmospheric Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé is one of the finest of the artist's Arles landscapes.  Painted amidst the most fruitful period of the artist's career, when his canvases were flooded with rich passages of densely-painted color, the composition depicts a verdant field under threat of an explosive rainstorm.  Van Gogh creates a scene of intense anticipation here, replete with psychological drama as the laborers hurry to finish their work before the heavens rain down upon them.  This painting was completed only two months before Van Gogh executed what is arguably his most celebrated work, The Starry Night, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.   Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé can be considered the thundering precursor to the MoMA picture and the first act of Van Gogh's grand celestial exploration.  Both of these paintings celebrate the majestic beauty of nature and the uncontrollable and often turbulent forces that shaped Van Gogh's world.  

In his analysis of Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, Sjraar van Heugten discusses the events that led to Van Gogh's completion of this important painting in April of 1889:

"This Provençal landscape of a meadow in Spring is among the last paintings which Van Gogh made in the countryside near Arles. Known by the title, Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, as well as Meadows, it was painted in the first half of April 1889, just a few weeks before Van Gogh would leave Arles and admit himself to the asylum of Saint-Paul-de Mausole in Saint-Remy.

During his Dutch years (1881-1885), Van Gogh’s main goal had been becoming a painter of the human figure, following in the footsteps of painters like Jean-François Millet, Jules Breton and Joseph Israëls. But even in that period, his landscape paintings and drawings show his unusual talent for that genre. In the South of France, where he found an abundance of motives in nature, this capacity would lead to an astonishing number of masterpieces.

Van Gogh had arrived in Arles on February 20, 1888. After two years in Paris (early 1886-early 1888) he had grown very tired of urban life. He wanted to go to Marseille, but decided to go to Arles first, to recuperate in rural surroundings and a mild climate. Soon, Arles and the Provençal countryside turned out to be a treasure trove of inspiration, and Van Gogh would never go to Marseille. In Paris he had discovered Japanese art and in the South he hoped to find the same harmony, color and light that he had observed in Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. He was not disappointed. He had high hopes that he could persuade other avant-garde artists to come to Arles and establish an artists community, ‘A Studio of the South’.

Upon arrival -  and to his dismay - he had found Arles covered under some 60 cm of snow. During the first weeks he had few chances of working outside, but the weather finally turned on 10 March. He then set off to produce a long series of flowering orchards.

During his two years in Paris, Van Gogh worked hard to change his stylistic approach and dark palette into a modern way of painting with strong, vibrant colors. He had studied Impressionism, the works of the young avant-garde, Japanese art, and a broad range of other artists. His understanding of color theories became profound. He experimented with several techniques, such as the Neo-Impressionist’s dots and strokes, and the almost draughtsman-like brushstroke of the peinture à l’essence, painted with very thin paint. He found that working in a heavy impasto suited him best and allowed him to work in a lively and expressive manner.

These achievements came together in Arles, where Van Gogh developed his singular modern idiom fully. The bright light and remarkable colors of the South were ideally suited for his coloristic talents. Van Gogh sought to make truly modern figure pieces, and some of the figures and portraits he painted in Arles are among the best in his oeuvre. But the landscape painter in him was greatly inspired by the nature of the South, and his achievements in that genre are amongst the most radical innovations in the history of art. After his spring campaign of flowering orchards, summer followed with the harvest of the wheat, one of Van Gogh's favorite motifs. Autumn landscapes and parks were attacked with equal vigor.

On October 23, 1888, after having postponed several times, Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles to join Van Gogh, who by now lived and worked in the Yellow House. Van Gogh had high hopes that his studio in the South would indeed be realized, since he saw Gauguin as the de facto leader in such a community. For many weeks the artists worked well together, inspiring each other and exchanging artistic insights. However, their preferences and temperaments clashed, and at the end of December a fierce discussion got out of hand. During what was probably a first attack of his illness, Van Gogh cut off a part of his left earlobe and had to be hospitalized. Gauguin left Arles on December 25 and Van Gogh's dream of a studio of young artists was shattered.

Van Gogh's last four months in Arles were marked by problems and incidents. People from the neighborhood around the Yellow House turned against him and in the end he had to leave. Due to attacks of his illness he returned to the hospital several times and stayed there for weeks. In April 1889, when he was again staying in the hospital, he felt well enough to go outside and paint the Spring landscape. In a letter of mid April he asks Theo to send him a large batch of paint, adding: ‘I have 6 spring studies, including two large orchards. It’s very urgent, because these effects are so fleeting.’ [758][1] One of these studies was Meadows (the present work).

Van Gogh mentions the painting three times in his letter, but does not comment on it. It is, however, very tempting to see a reflection in it of Van Gogh’s feelings during those days filled with worry. At the beginning of April, Van Gogh had written to Theo: ‘I’m well these days, apart from a certain vague background sadness that’s hard to define.’ [754]  At the end of the month he wrote to his sister Willemien that he had suffered four attacks of his illness over the past months and he is worried about the future: ‘It’s very likely that I have a lot more to suffer'...‘I can’t precisely describe what the thing I have is like, there are terrible fits of anxiety sometimes – without any apparent cause – or then again a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the mind.’ [764] Van Gogh’s melancholy mood found his way into some of his works. In that same letter he describes a view of the courtyard of the hospital which he painted: ‘[…] it’s a painting chock-full of flowers and springtime greenery. However, three black, sad tree-trunks cross it like snakes, and in the foreground four large sad, dark box bushes.’ On May 3 he writes to Theo that he made a drawing of a weeping tree ‘which became very dark and quite melancholic for springtime.’ [768]

In Meadows, Van Gogh possibly wants to convey this sentiment. With its cheery field with flowers it is clearly a spring scene. A man and a woman to the left are out for a stroll. She is bending over, probably to pick some flowers. Van Gogh often added such couples to compositions to give the image a touch of human romance and a feeling of consolation. The landscape and the figures are painted in a quick but careful way, and the colors are bright and lively. The heavy gray clouds in the blue sky are highly unusual in Van Gogh’s work from Arles. They are painted with a thick brush in forceful and expressive strokes, and are in contrast with the lightness of the lower part of the painting. They may have been included to evoke the feeling of melancholy that had Van Gogh in its grip. It gives the painting a strong personal touch and makes it a moving testimony of the painter’s life during that late period in Arles.

Ronald Pickvance has suggested a possible location for this scene, but the landscape contains so few identifying topographical clues that any certainty seems impossible.[2]

The painting was mainly done in one session with possibly some added touches in the next days. Van Gogh painted on a standard size canvas, a so-called toile de 20 figure. Like many contemporary artists in France, Van Gogh bought standard size canvases or cut canvas from a role to fit standard size frames. They came in three categories, paysage, marine and figure and the number referred to the price in sous that they cost when the system was introduced. A toile de 20 figure measures 73 x 60 cm. Van Gogh usually bought his canvases pre-primed.

When Van Gogh left Arles, he had to leave some of his work behind. In the first half of July 1889, he went from Saint-Rémy to Arles to pick up canvases and on 15 or 16 July he sent 11 paintings to Theo by train, Meadows (the present work) amongst them" (Sjraar van Heugten in correspondence with Sotheby's, October 2015).


[1] The letter numbers refer to Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker, Vincent van Gogh – The Letters. The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Amsterdam etc. 2009. See also the online edition, with more extensive annotation: vangoghletters.org.

[2] Pickvance 2000, no. 74, p. 307, see literature

Sotheby's is grateful to Sjraar van Heugten for writing the catalogue note for the present lot.