Van Gogh’s Olive Trees

The Van Gogh Museum presents an exhibition focusing on the fifteen paintings of olive groves that Vincent van Gogh made in 1889 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The painter himself believed these works to have been amongst the best he had made in the South of France. Thanks to exceptional loans from museums in the United States and Europe, this important group of paintings is now reunited and exhibited together. Highlights of the exhibition include Olive Trees (Minneapolis Institute of Art), Olive Grove (Gothenburg Museum of Art) and Women Picking Olives (Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens). Van Gogh and the Olive Groves is a collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art.

Emilie Gordenker (Director of the Van Gogh Museum): ‘This exhibition is the result of years of intensive research and is a rare opportunity to see this group of works together. These extraordinary paintings convey Van Gogh’s love of nature and his belief that art can offer comfort’.

Intense quest

The asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) stayed for one year, was surrounded by olive groves. Soon after his arrival there Van Gogh was immediately fascinated by the gnarly shapes of the olive trees and the play of light on the colour of their leaves. Between June and December 1889, he painted a significant series of fifteen paintings, capturing the olive groves at various times of the day and in different seasons. In his search to discover the typical characteristics of the olive tree – that to him, characterised the Provence – he experimented with expressive colours, lines and forms.

He wrote: ‘the olive trees are very characteristic, and I’m struggling to capture that. It’s silver, sometimes more blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed, whitening on ground that is yellow, pink, purplish or orangeish to dull red ochre. […] And one day perhaps I’ll do a personal impression of it, the way the sunflowers are for yellows’. (Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 28 September 1889).

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Women Picking Olives, November 1889, Oil on Canvas, 73,5 × 92,5 cm, Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens.