Van Gogh’s Vegetable Gardens at Montmartre (1887)
Art historians have remarked that while van Gogh accurately recorded the layout of this scene in Montmartre he was not precise.1 Faced with the quandary of why a great artist would both record and fictionalize a contemporary scene, scholars have generally concluded that he wanted to capture the atmosphere of the place.2 It is one of those mysterious answers that makes no sense but which we art lovers, like the congregation of an Established Church, accept on faith.
Vegetable Gardens at Montmartre by Van Gogh is another example of an artist basing a landscape on the underlying form of a self-portrait. Here the plot of land resembles the shape of van Gogh’s chin in an earlier portrait. Not only that, but the direction of the brushstrokes echoes the hairs of his beard. He must, therefore, have chosen the motif in Montmartre for its resemblance to the lower part of his own face.
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Compare the two images at left. Just above his “chin”, Van Gogh marked the horizontal line of a fence to position his mouth. Further up he placed chimney smoke on the horizon, symbolic of creative dreaming, to indicate his right eye. The smoke, billowing upwards to the left, forms an acute angle with the horizon, thus positioning the inner corner of his right eye precisely.
More Works by Van Gogh
A spiritual journey is one of the basic plots of literature and a common metaphor in both philosophy and religion. Why not art?
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.