Catalogue entry: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 during the last two months of his life. He painted many views of these fields in his last days, including this landscape with a reaper cutting the golden grain while the stacked sheaves recede toward a village and the distant blue hills. He painted out-of-doors in direct response to the landscape, as the Impressionists did (see 1957.33 and 1929.51), but in van Gogh's art, the color is bolder and less nuanced; the brushstrokes heavier, more regular, and more distinct; the forms and spaces more freely distorted; and the rhythms coursing and emphatic. He sought to express what was for him the essential character of the landscape, but also to "disentangle," as he once put it, what he understood and felt of nature's "expression and soul"—to evoke "a more exalting and consoling nature than a single brief glance at reality … can let us perceive." Though inspired by the observation of his immediate surroundings, van Gogh also saw in the wheat fields and in the figure of the reaper symbolic meanings and sublime, almost religious, emotions. Discussing an earlier painting of a reaper, he explained in a letter to his brother Theo: "I see in him the image of death, in the sense that humanity might be the wheat he is reaping ... But 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…."
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey