Vincent van Gogh was fascinated by the vast fields of wheat that stretched above Auvers-sur-Oise, a town north of Paris where he lived the last two months of his life. He painted many views of these fields, including this landscape with a reaper cutting the golden grain while the stacked sheaves recede toward a village and the distant blue hills. For Van Gogh, the reaper was sometimes a biblical metaphor of the final harvest when mankind will be reaped like ripe wheat. “But,” he wrote to his brother Theo in 1889, “there’s nothing sad in this death, it goes its way in broad daylight with a sun flooding everything with a light of pure gold…It is an image of death as the great book of nature speaks of it.”
Though inspired by the observation of his immediate surroundings, Van Gogh was not interested in mimicking what he saw. As he wrote in 1888 to Theo, “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily, to express myself more forcibly.” His thick, sculptural brushstrokes add to this forceful expression.