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Oil on canvas
71.0 x 93.0 cm.
Saint-Rémy: May, 1889
F 608, JH 1691

Los Angeles: Getty Center


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Vincent van Gogh painted Irises shortly after he voluntarily admitted himself into the St.-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. Irises was painted in the garden to the south of the men's quarters--the only area Van Gogh was permitted to work during the first month of his confinement. The scene is a symphony of vibrant colours with the magnificent violet iris petals dominating the rich red soil and the bright orange marigolds in the background.

In May, 1889 Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: "Have you received the case of pictures? I am anxious to know whether or not they have suffered. I am working on two others--some violet irises and a lilac bush, two subjects taken from the garden. (Letter 591). Later, in the same letter Vincent writes to his sister-in-law Johanna about the conditions of the asylum:

Though here there are some patients very seriously ill, the fear and horror of madness that I used to have has already lessened a great deal. And though here you continually hear terrible cries and howls like beasts in a menagerie, in spite of that people get to know each other very well and help each other when their attacks come on. When I am working in the garden, they all come to look, and I assure you they have the discretion and manners to leave me alone--more than the good people of the town of Arles, for instance.

Van Gogh shipped the completed Irises to Theo in Paris and his brother was extremely taken with the painting. Theo submitted the work to the Salon des Indépendents in September, 1889. Theo wrote to Vincent:

Now I still have to tell you that the exhibition of the Indépendents is open, and that your two pictures are there, the "Irises" and "The Starlit Night." The latter is hung badly, for one cannot put oneself at a sufficient distance, as the room is very narrow, but the other one makes an extremely good showing. They have put it on the narrow wall of the room, and it strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life.

Letter T16

While on display at the Salon Irises caught the attention of the critic Félix Fénéon who wrote "The Irises violently slash into long strips, their violet petals on sword-like leaves." Years after the exhibition the writer Octave Mirbeau would acquire Irises (see provenance below) and his conversation about the painting with Claude Monet was recalled by the French journalist Léon Daudet:
I can once again see, though it was many years ago, Monet speaking with Mirbeau about another famous painter, Vincent van Gogh, on the subject of a path of irises, a canvas that in Mirbeau's nervous, blond-haired hands gloriously shimmered in the light. "How," Monet was saying, "did a man who loved flowers and light to such an extent, and who rendered them so well, how, then did he still manage to be so unhappy?"
There has been some speculation about the symbolic import of Irises. Some feel that the lone, white iris was Van Gogh's depiction of himself in the asylum--isolated and detached from the rest of the staff and inmates. Such interpretation is, of course, completely subjective and neither Vincent nor Theo's correspondence put forth any such suggestions.

Van Gogh would paint the asylum's iris garden once more--a smaller and more subdued painting now on display in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.


1. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers (Harry N. Abrams, 1986).
2. Sotheby's (auction catalogue), Vincent van Gogh: Irises (1987).


Owner City Country Date acquired
Julien Tanguy Paris France  
Octave Mirbeau Paris France 1892
Auguste Pellerin Paris France 1905
Bernheim-Jeune Art Gallery Paris France  
Jacques Doncet Paris France 1925
Mrs. Jacques Doncet Neuilly-sur-Seine France  
Jacques Seligmann and Co. Art Gallery New York United States 1937
César de Hauke New York United States  
M. Knoedler and Co. New York United States  
Joan Whitney Payson New York United States 1947
Alan Bond Perth Australia 11 November 1987
Getty Center Los Angeles United States March, 1990


Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1889 Paris France Salles de la Sté d'Horticulture Salon des artistes indépendants 3 September 1889 4 October 1889 273
1901 Paris France Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Exposition d'Oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 15 March 1901 31 March 1901 31
1905 Paris France Grandes Serres de l'Alma Exposition de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, 21e exposition: Exposition rétrospective Vincent van Gogh 24 March 1905 30 April 1905 32
1925 Paris (3) France Musée des Arts Décoratifs Cinquante ans de peinture française 1875-1925 28 May 1925 12 July 1925 79
1927 Paris France Galerie Bernheim-Jeune Vincent van Gogh l'époque française 20 June 1927 2 July 1927
1929 New York United States Museum of Modern Art First Loan Exhibition Cézanne-Gauguin-Seurat-Van Gogh 8 November 1929 7 December 1929 95
1931 Paris France Galerie Paul Rosenberg Oeuvres importantes de grands maitres du dix-neuvième siècle 18 June 1931 21 June 1931 44
1935 Brussels Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts L'Impressionisme 15 June 1935 29 September 1935 95
1937 Paris France Les Nouveaux Musées, Quai de Tokyo La vie et l'oeuvre de Van Gogh  

1940 Detroit (1) United States Detroit Institute of Arts The Age of Impressionism and Objective Realism 3 May 1940 2 June 1940 47
1942 Worcester United States Worcester Art Museum Paintings by Van Gogh 28 October 1942 28 November 1942 19
1942 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Paintings by Van Gogh 18 September 1942 18 October 1942 19
1943 New York (2) United States Wildenstein and Co. The Art and Life of Vincent van Gogh. Loan Exhibition in Aid of American and Dutch War Relief 6 October 1943 7 November 1943 44
1948 New York (1) United States M. Knoedler and Co. Vincent van Gogh: 14 Masterpieces 30 March 1948 17 April 1948 11
1949 New York (1) United States Century Association Trends in European Painting: 1680-1930 2 February 1949 31 March 1949 5
1955 New York (3) United States Museum of Modern Art Paintings from Private Collections 31 May 1955 5 September 1955 48
1956 New Haven United States Yale University Art Gallery Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni 8 May 1956 18 June 1956 97
1980 Kyoto Japan Kyoto Municipal Museum From Goya to Wyeth: The Joan Whitney Payson Collection  
1980 Tokyo (2) Japan Isetan Museum of Art From Goya to Wyeth: The Joan Whitney Payson Collection  
1984 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape 28 June 1984 16 September 1984 90
1984-85 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape 18 October 1984 6 January 1985 90
1986-87 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers 12 November 1986 22 March 1987 1
1999 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Van Gogh's Iris. Masterpiece in Focus 11 June 1999 16 September 1999  
1999 Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Art in the Age of Van Gogh: Dutch Paintings from the Rijksmuseum 16 May 1999 11 July 1999
1999 Los Angeles (1) United States Getty Center Vincent's Irises 19 January 1999 21 March 1999  

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