Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.
Van Gogh stated in a letter to his brother Theo that when working from nature “one catches the true and the essential.” He painted The Large Plane Trees outdoors during his stay at a mental institution in Saint-Remy. He observed a row of plane trees (closely related to the American sycamore) during a trip into the nearby village, and quickly painted them to capture the changing autumnal colors. The repetition, The Road Menders, was completed later, in the studio.
Van Gogh emphasized different elements in the two works. Their titles indicate some of the differences. Why do you think each painting has the name it has? As you observe the two works, what similarities do you notice? What differences? What might the variations in style tell you about van Gogh’s process of working from nature versus working in the studio?
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 21 3/4 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William A. M. Burden, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Rosenberg, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Mr. and Mrs. Armand P. Bartos, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Werner E. Josten, and Loula D. Lasker Bequest (all by exchange). Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art /Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
One of van Gogh’s closest friends when he lived in Arles was Joseph Roulin, who worked for the local post office. Van Gogh executed six paintings and three drawings of Roulin between 1888 and 1889. The artist thought so highly of Roulin that he confessed in a letter to his brother Theo, “I don’t know if I will be able to paint the Postman as I feel him.”
How would you choose to represent one of your closest friends or family member? How would you emphasize how they make you feel and what they mean to you?
We’ve been asking visitors to use haiku, a Japanese 17 syllable poem.
Title: Person’s name
Line 1: 5 syllables describing how you know him or her
Line 2: 7 syllables describing what he or she looks like
Line 3: 5 syllables describing how you feel about him or her
Graduate Intern Beth Rizley Evans wrote one about her sister to help inspire you.
Sister, doctor, friend
We look like repetitions
She laughs at my jokes
Proud of your work? Share your haiku on Twitter and tag it #vangoghhaiku.
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Marcelle Roulin, 1888. Oil on canvas, 13 3/4 x 9 3/4 in. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Every time I enter Van Gogh: Repetitions, I have to stop and explore the portraits of Marcelle Roulin on view. Maybe it’s because I have a baby at home. Maybe it’s because I’m in awe of how Marcelle Roulin tolerates the gold bracelet on her wrist and the ring on her tiny finger (I know my daughter wouldn’t). I might just want to squeeze those chubby cheeks. In any case, I’m fascinated by van Gogh’s portraits of a baby who is so new to life.
Van Gogh had a enduring affection for children. When he met Marcelle’s mother, Augustine Roulin, she was pregnant. She gave birth to Marcelle on July 31, 1888. Soon after van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo saying, a baby “has the infinite in its eyes;” in the same letter he shared his intention to paint Marcelle. The artist created 3 individual portraits of Marcelle and two paintings of the baby in her mother’s arms.
The artist wasn’t the only one smitten with baby Marcelle. The following May, Marcelle’s father, Joseph Roulin wrote a letter to van Gogh saying, “Beautiful Marcelle is still doing well, she has two teeth, she is an extraordinary little one, very well-behaved, she has everything in her favour, only when I arrived she didn’t want to see me. It was only when I left that she really looked at me and pulled my beard a little.”