Vincent van Gogh’s stunning Laboureur dans un champ (1889) painting is to be offered by Christie’s in their Impressionist and Modern NY evening sale, held on 13 November.
‘I’m struggling with all my energy to master my work, telling myself that if I win this it will be the best lightning conductor for the illness,’ Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in September 1889 reflecting on his mental and physical pain. Six weeks earlier, a suicidal crisis qualified as an epileptic ‘attack’ by Van Gogh himself, led Dr. Théophile Peyron to lock him in the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy de Provence, France, hoping for a quick recovery. ‘This new crisis,’ he wrote to his brother in August, ‘came upon me in the fields, and when I was in the middle of painting on a windy day.’
Determined to continue painting, Van Gogh used his landmark vibrant colours and movements to depict a glorious sunshine, a purple, green and yellow wheat field, a few poplars in the background, a small farm house and a ploughman tilling the soil. This figure balances the dynamism provided by the orientation of the soil on the canvas coming from the right-hand side. Using the farmer’s work as a metaphor for his own labour as an artist, Van Gogh’s eye leads viewers to look at colour and movements in a different way.
‘Through the iron-barred window I can make out a square of wheat in an enclosure,’ Van Gogh wrote to his brother, ‘above which in the morning I see the sun rise in its glory.’ from the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum. ‘What a beautiful land and what beautiful blue and what a sun! And yet I’ve only seen the garden and what I can make out through the window.’ He wrote to his brother.
Once Laboureur dans un champ was completed, Van Gogh changed subject matter and started a series of portraits, hoping to impress upon Dr. Peyron and his brother that he had recovered.