Wheatfield with a Reaper, 1889

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

  • Oil on Canvas, 73 X 92 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
    (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)
  • F 618

This painting depicting a reaper in a sun-drenched wheatfield was painted in Saint-Rémy, a small village near Arles. In the wake of several mental crises, Van Gogh had decided to commit himself to the hospital there at the end of April 1889. He was treated by Dr. Peyron, who gave him permission to continue painting.

Van Gogh worked in the garden, drew the hospital’s corridors and barred windows, painted the view from his cell, and made several portraits of other patients. Occasionally, he was allowed to venture outside the hospital walls, but never alone. When he could not work outdoors he made his own variations on the paintings of Millet, Delacroix and other masters.

More information about "Wheatfield with a Reaper"

Biblical Metaphor

Van Gogh himself later wrote about the meaning of this painting, referring to the well-known biblical metaphor: "A reaper, the study is all yellow, terribly thickly impasted, but the subject was beautiful and simple. I then saw in this reaper – a vague figure struggling like a devil in the full heat of the day to reach the end of his toil – I then saw the image of death in it, in this sense that humanity would be the wheat being reaped. (...) But in this death nothing sad, it takes place in broad daylight with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold."

Signature Style

The Wheatfield with Reaper shows the view from Vincent’s cell: a walled wheatfield, with mountains in the background. There are two other versions and a number of drawings of the same subject. The wheat is represented by long, wavy lines of color, which transform into spirals in places. This, Van Gogh’s “signature style,” became famous above all through his paintings of cypresses and the star-filled night sky.

If we compare the brushstroke here with that in other works we can see an astonishing development in the artist’s “handwriting.” In the beginning, Van Gogh rather cautiously filled his canvases with little dots. In his Parisian self-portrait, he had already begun to work with short strokes in various directions. Here, he has set his image down with vigorous, powerful strokes.

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