The Rocks depicts a specific area in the South of France called Montmajour, a rocky terrain located a few miles north of the city of Arles. Painting on site was a struggle for Vincent van Gogh, because the fierce, blustering winds that swept through this region whipped violently against his canvases.
Van Gogh’s own creative energy leaps outward through his vigorous brushwork and the astonishing variety of strokes with which he laid down his unmixed colors. The forceful way he moves paint around on the canvas makes his work almost instantly recognizable. One senses the speed and vigor with which Van Gogh transcribed this scene to canvas, capturing the wild, almost electric presence of the site. The artist’s manic marking, combined with his broad exploitation of greens, blues, and yellows, makes for an exceeding lively image. The composition—strong and simplified, with the rocks stepping their way back to the craggy tree—grounds the potential chaos of colors and marks. Theo van Gogh, the artist’s brother, was so taken by this painting that he immediately framed it and hung it beside The Sower, one of Vincent’s undisputed masterpieces.