Van Gogh’s Trees and Undergrowth (1887)

In a landscape owned by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam Van Gogh's own face appears mysteriously out of the right-hand side of the painting. It is the metaphorical portrayal of his own mind and like many of the other observations on this site, it has never been noted by conventional art historians. 

Take a moment to see if you can find Van Gogh's portrait in the forest before moving onto the visual comparison with a self-portrait. It may help to enlarge the image by clicking on it.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Van Gogh, Trees and Undergrowth, Summer 1887 Oil on canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

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The upper left contour of Van Gogh's hidden "face", probably based on a self-portrait from the same period, is an ash-colored tree trunk. The artist's "mouth" formed by dark shading appears on the horizon line between the undergrowth and the trees. Most significantly, the brushstrokes of the undergrowth, where his "beard" is located, a lighter green than elsewhere, seem to suggest the direction of his beard.

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

L to R Comparison: Detail of Trees and Undergrowth; detail of self-portrait; diagram of his "face" in the landscape 

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Van Gogh describes his mind in this landscape as fertile, all green, with growth above (aiming for the heights) and growth below (in the subconscious). It was painted in Paris at a time when Van Gogh could have seen in the Louvre how many great masters before him had hidden similar faces in their landscapes. Several examples by Durer, Leonardo, Corot and Courbet are included on this site.  Although readers may be surprised by the appearance of a face in a landscape, it is not totally unexpected because Van Gogh himself once wrote to his brother: “Theo, I am decidely not a landscape painter; when I make landscapes there will always be something of a figure in them.”1


1. Cited in H.R. Graetz, The Symbolic Language of Vincent van Gogh (London: Thames & Hudson) 1963, p. 21

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