Vincent's love for Japan
Japanese printmaking was one of Vincent's greatest sources of inspiration. They taught him to look at the world in a different way.
5 things you need to know about
Vincent loved nature. Blossoming trees, like in the painting Almond Blossom, were one of his favourite subjects to paint. He painted a number of variations on the theme: ranging from a small flowering sprig in a glass to lavishly blossoming trees.
Almond trees flower early in spring. The tree therefore marks the arrival of spring and the start of new life. And that was very appropriate in this case, as Vincent didn’t paint this work for just any old reason…
The painting was a gift for Vincent’s newborn nephew. The boy was born on 31 January 1890, and Theo and his wife Jo named him Vincent, after his uncle. Van Gogh was delighted to hear the news: ‘It does me, too, more good and gives me more pleasure than I could express in words’.
He started work on this painting straight away. He painted the blue sky very precisely around the branches. If you look closely, you can see how many different shades of blue he used, just like in a real-life sky.
The painting became a treasured possession as soon as Vincent presented it to Theo and Jo as a gift. At first, it hung prominently above the piano in Theo and Jo’s living room. Later, once Jo had moved to Bussum following Theo’s death, the work hung in her and her son Vincent’s bedroom.
Following the death of Vincent and Theo, all of Vincent’s paintings passed into Jo’s hands. She sold a number of works during her lifetime, but Almond Blossom was so precious to Jo and her son that it was never to be sold. And that’s why to this very day, it is on display at the Van Gogh Museum.
For Van Gogh, painting Almond Blossom signified a new start. At the time, he had already been at an asylum in Saint-Rémy for almost ten months. Due to an attack of his illness, Vincent had not worked for weeks. He was now allowed back outside to paint, surrounded by nature.
Vincent worked hard, but that cost him dearly. Once he had completed the painting at the end of February, he had an attack that lasted for two months; his longest ever crisis. Once he had recovered, a new disappointment awaited: Vincent had missed his beloved flowering season.
‘If I’d been able to continue working, […] I would have done others of the trees in blossom. Now the trees in blossom are almost finished, […] I have no luck’.
Vincent chose an unusual perspective for Almond Blossom. He painted the branches from below and very close up. It is as if you are lying on your back on the grass, looking up at the branches above you, so that you can no longer see the entire tree. Vincent had seen this approach in Japanese printmaking and was inspired by it. These prints often zoom in on details from nature, and the image was sometimes cropped.
The subject itself also feels very Japanese, as blossom played a significant role in Japanese printmaking. Watch the video to see what else Van Gogh learned from Japanese prints.