Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees. Saint Rémy, June-July 1889

Vincent van Gogh

The Olive Trees

Saint Rémy, June-July 1889

On view
Oil on canvas
28 5/8 x 36" (72.6 x 91.4 cm)
Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest
Object number
Painting and Sculpture
This work is on view on Floor 5, in Painting and Sculpture I, Gallery 1, with 20 other works online.
Vincent van Gogh has 6 works online.
There are 2,104 paintings online.

In the blazing heat of this Mediterranean afternoon, nothing rests. Against a ground scored as if by some invisible torrent, intense green olive trees twist and crimp, capped by the rolling, dwindling hillocks of the distant Alps, beneath a light-washed sky with a bundled, ectoplasmic cloud.

After van Gogh voluntarily entered the asylum at Saint-Rémy in the south of France in the spring of 1889, he wrote his brother Theo: "I did a landscape with olive trees and also a new study of a starry sky." Later, when the pictures had dried, he sent both of them to Theo in Paris, noting: "The olive trees with the white cloud and the mountains behind, as well as the rise of the moon and the night effect, are exaggerations from the point of view of the general arrangement; the outlines are accentuated as in some old woodcuts."

Van Gogh's letters make it clear that he created this particular intense vista of the southern French landscape as a daylight partner to the visionary nocturne of his more famous canvas, The Starry Night. He felt that both pictures showed, in complementary ways, the principles he shared with his fellow painter Paul Gauguin, regarding the freedom of the artist to go beyond "the photographic and silly perfection of some painters" and intensify the experience of color and linear rhythms.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 34

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
Theo van Gogh (1857–1891), Paris, 1889 [1]; by inheritance to Johanna van Gogh-Bonger (1862-1925), Amsterdam, 1891 [2]; sold to Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874–1921), Hagen, 1906 (on loan to the Folkwang Museum, Hagen) [3]. Galerie D. Komter, Amsterdam, by 1924 [4]; to S.[alomon] van Deventer (1888-1972), Wassenaar, The Netherlands, by 1928 [5]; [sold to unknown German buyer, June 1940] [6]. Nathan Katz (1893-1949), Basel, Switzerland [7]; on consignment to Knoedler Gallery, New York, 1947 [8]; sold to John Hay Whitney (1904-1982) and Betsey Cushing Whitney (1908-1998), New York, April 1947 [9]; by inheritance to Betsey Cushing Whitney, New York, 1982; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1998 (Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest).
[1] Sent by the artist to his brother Theo in Paris, on July 15, 1889, together with Starry Night. See van Gogh, Verzamelde Brieven, vol. 3, Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 1953, pp. 463-464, qtd. in John Rewald, ed., The John Hay Whitney Collection, exh. cat.: Washington, The National Gallery of Art, 1983 (no. 24).
[2] Per Chris Stolwijk and Han Veenenbos, eds., "Works by Vincent van Gogh sold from the collection," The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, 2002, p. 186 (F712 JH1740).
[3] The painting was among a group of works owned by Johanna van Gogh-Bongher Osthaus selected from the van Gogh retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum (July-August 1905) [no. 206: Rotsen met olijven op de voorgrond]. See Walter Feilchenfeldt, "Karl Ernst Osthaus und die Werke van Goghs," 'Das schönste Museum der Welt,' Sammlung Folkwang bis 1933, Hartwig Fischer, ed., exh. cat. Essen: Folkwang Museum, 2010, pp. 173-177.
[4] Per J. B. de la Faille, L’oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris and Brussels: G. van Oest, 1928 (no. 712); and Abraham M. Hammacher et al., eds., J. B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam: Meulenhoff International/Reynal & Co., 1970), no. 712, repr. p. 277. See Tentoonstelling Collectie Kunsthandel D. Komter, Amsterdam, Firma A. Mak, Amsterdam, September 1-22, 1924 (no. 124: Landschap. Olijfboomen in een dal).
[5] Ibid. The painting's present location is given as "S. van Deventer" in de la Faille 1928. It was on loan from van Deventer to the exhibitions Vincent van Gogh, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 4, 1935-January 5, 1936 (no. 60: Olive Trees and Mountains); and Vincent van Gogh, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, January 20-February 2, 1937 (no. 45).
[6] "Aangifte formulier," signed by W. Auping, Otterlo, November 4, 1945, SNK Archives 2.08.42, invnr. 726, National Archives, The Hague, The Netherlands; "Intern Aangifte formulier," January 11, 1946, SNK Archives 2.08.42, invnr. 751, National Archives, The Hague, The Netherlands.
[7] Information provided to MoMA by Knoedler Galleries, New York, April 1998. Nathan Katz was one of the major organizers behind the benefit exhibition for the Hollandhilfe Basel 25 Werke von Vincent van Gogh, Galerie M.[arguerite] Schulthess, Basel, June 23-August 19, 1945, in which the painting was included (no. 14: Les oliviers).
[8] Information provided to MoMA by Knoedler Galleries, New York, April 1998.
[9] Information provided to MoMA by Knoedler Galleries, New York, April 1998.

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