Landscape at Saint-Rémy (Enclosed Field with Peasant)

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Dimensions
30 x 37-1/2 in. (canvas) 39-1/2 x 46-7/8 x 3-7/8 in. (framed)
Credit line
Gift of Mrs. James W. Fesler in memory of Daniel W. and Elizabeth C. Marmon
Accession number
44.74
Collection
Not Currently On View

Van Gogh's spirituality and intense identification with the forces of nature transformed his views of the landscape into powerful personal expressions.

This canvas was painted in the Provençal town of Saint-Rémy, as van Gogh recuperated from a nervous breakdown suffered on Christmas Eve, 1888, during Gauguin's fateful visit. It is one of four views of a walled wheat field executed in the autumn of 1889. Symbols of the artist's pantheistic beliefs, the ploughed terrain and rugged mountain peaks pulsate with a fertile inner life, charged by the picture's dynamic brushwork, rich surface texture, and varied colors.

By inheritance to the artist's brother Theo van Gogh [d. 1891]; to his wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger;{1} sold to (Paul Cassirer, Berlin) in May 1905;{2} sold to Robert von Mendelssohn [1857-1917], Berlin;{3} by inheritance to his widow Giulietta von Mendelssohn, Berlin-Grunewald; to her children Eleonora [1900-1951] and Francesco [1901-1972], Berlin, New York;{4} on consignment to (J.K. Thannhauser, New York).{5} probably directly to (Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co., New York);{6} sold by them to Mrs. James W. Fesler (Caroline Marmon Fesler), who gave it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (formerly John Herron Art Institute) in the same month. (44.74){7}

{1} After the death of Theo, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger's brother Andries Bonger, made an inventory list of 311 works in his sister's possession. Landscape at Saint-Rémy is identified as no. 309 on this list; see documentation provided by Walter Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of van Gogh in Germany from 1901 to 1914 (Cahier Vincent 2), Zwolle 1988: p. 109.
{2} Johanna van Gogh-Bonger's list of works destined for Cassirer in Berlin; see facsimile in Feilchenfeldt, p. 80. Paul Cassirer's stockbook records the purchase of this canvas along with eight others in May 1905; see facsimile in Feilchenfeldt, p. 18.
{3} Paul Cassirer's stockbook records the sale of this canvas to Mendelssohn in May 1905; photocopy courtesy of Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zürich, October 2003.
{4} Eleonora emigrated to the United States in 1935 and became a citizen; Francesco emigrated in 1933; information provided in correspondence with Hans-Günter Klein, Mendelssohn-Archiv, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, May 2003.
{5} Janet Briner of the Silva-Casa Foundation in Geneva, in a letter of 20 May 2004, confirms that this painting is listed as # 2054 in the Works of art on consignment index cards in the Archives Justin K. Thannhauser (owner: Francesco and Eleonora von Mendelssohn; their agent: Fredrick Kempner).
{6} Many dealers in New York knew of this painting and the von Mendelssohns' interest in selling it. Kempner's correspondence with the von Mendelssohns between June 1942 and June 1943 confirms that the painting was on consignment to Thannhauser, see Eleonora Mendelssohn Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Box 8, folder 8. Despite the fact that Paul Rosenberg & Co. has been listed on occasion as a gallery through which this painting passed, a phone conversation with Elaine Rosenberg in October 2003 indicates that this was not the case.
{7} Bill of sale in IMA Historical File (44.74).
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In His Own Words

“Van Gogh described this landscape twice on the same day, 12 October 1889. First to Émile Bernard: ‘a size 30 canvas with ploughed fields, broken lilac, and a background of mountains rising to the very height of the picture; so nothing but rough fields and rocks, with a thistle and dried grass in a corner, and a little fellow, violet and yellow’ (B20). And then to Theo: ‘I have just brought back a canvas on which I have been working for some time, representing the same field again as in the “Reaper.’” Now it is clods of earth and the background of parched land, then the rocks of the Alpines. A bit of green-blue sky with a little white and violet cloud. In the foreground a thistle and some dry grass. A peasant dragging a truss of straw in the middle. It is again a harsh study, and instead of being almost entirely yellow, it makes a picture almost entirely violet. Broken violet and neutral tints. But I am writing you because I think this will complement the “Reaper” and will make clearer what that is. For the “Reaper” looks as though it were done at random, and this will give it balance’ (LT610).

Painted out of doors over several days, this view of the enclosed field differs from all of the other size 30 canvases of the motif. It shows much more of the dividing wall to the right, and it is the most accurate topographically, not only in the position of the hut and cottages but, above all, in the close delineation of distant vegetation and trees. The resulting rich, variegated surfaces are expressed in a series of short, slender, brick-shape brushstrokes that are very close to those in the second painting of a quarry (cat. 35).

Van Gogh’s most revealing comment on Enclosed Field with Peasant, however, lies in the striking contrast, in color and facture, that he sets up between it and the Reaper. This notion stayed with him, for when he sent the canvas to Theo on 3 January 1890, he described it as: ‘“Ploughed Field,” with background of mountains—it is the same field as the reaper’s of the last summer and can be a pendant to it; I think that one will set off the other’ (LT621).”

Pickvance, Ronald. Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers. Exh. cat. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986, p. 136-138, no. 28.

Behind the Scenes: Provenance

“…The early history of the painting is well-documented due to the great interest art historians have invested in Van Gogh. Immediately after the artist’s suicide in 1890, Landscape at Saint-Rémy, along with over 500 paintings, passed by descent to his younger brother Theo, who had financially supported him. When Theo died only six months later, these paintings passed to his widow, Johanna van Gogh (née Bonger). Although, Johanna barely knew Vincent, she was well aware of her husband’s wish that the long-running correspondence between the two brothers be published. Because she felt it would be unfair to create interest in the dead artist’s life before creating interest in his work, she sought to bring Vincent’s paintings to the attention of various art dealers in Europe.

Paul Cassirer, one of the most prescient dealers of modern art, had established a gallery in Berlin in 1898. Although Van Gogh’s works were mostly met with derision when exhibited, Cassirer asked Johanna if he could help ‘intensify the circulation of Van Gogh’s art.’ She obliged, sending him an inventory of available paintings, including Landscape at Saint-Rémy. These paintings made their way to Berlin in April 1905 for an exhibition at Cassirer’s gallery. Landscape at Saint-Rémy was purchased out of this exhibition by the prominent German banker Robert von Mendelssohn.

Von Mendelssohn hailed from a distinguished Jewish family that boasted prominent forebears including the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the composer Felix Mendelssohn. Von Mendelssohn assembled a small but significant art collection including works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Rubens, Corot, Alma-Tadema, Manet, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. When he died in 1917, his estate went to his widow, the Italian-born concert pianist Giulietta von Mendelssohn (née Gordigiani) and to his two children, Eleonora and Francesco….

But Landscape at Saint-Rémy had left Europe still in Eleonora’s possession. Her papers at the New York Public Library contain a report from Kempner noting that he had consigned the painting to the New York-based art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser with the sibling’s consent. This was the documentation that was needed. Landscape at Saint-Rémy was not clouded by any illicit activity during the Nazi-era. The Von Mendelssohn children had themselves agreed to sell it.”—pp. 26-27

Schlagenhauff, Annette. “Behind the Scenes: Provenance,” Previews Magazine (Fall 2009): 26-27.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Vincent van Gogh's spirituality and his intense identification with the energies of nature transformed his landscapes into powerful personal expressions. While voluntarily committed in an asylum in Saint-Rémy, fifteen miles northeast of Arles in southern France, Van Gogh found his greatest inspiration in direct contact with nature, and he created this image over several days, working just outside the hospital in October 1889.

Enclosed Field with Peasant is the most topographically accurate of four views of a walled Provence wheat field at the base of the rugged peaks of the Alpilles. The artist described this painting as a pendant to The Reaper (Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam), specifying that the predominant yellow hues of that landscape were the chromatic complement to the blue-violet tints of the IMA canvas. Charged by the picture's dynamic brushwork, the furrowed soil and craggy mountains of the painting seem to pulsate with a fertile inner life. At the center of the composition, a small figure carries a bundle of straw-a human element reinforcing the cycles of life that animate Van Gogh's art.

What can a person do when he thinks of all the things he cannot understand, but look at the fields of wheat. . . . We, who live by bread, are we not ourselves very much like wheat . . . to be reaped when we are ripe. . . .
-Vincent van Gogh, 1889