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Blossoming Almond Tree

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Details
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 92.0 cm.
Saint-Rémy: February, 1890
F 671, JH 1891

Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
See below

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Blossoming Almond Tree is one of Vincent van Gogh's best known paintings and is noteworthy in that both Van Gogh and his closest family held the work in high regard. This painting is one of a small handful that Van Gogh produced with a particular person in mind--in this case, his brother and sister-in-law's newborn baby. Van Gogh was deeply moved when Theo and Johanna chose to name the child Vincent and he always harboured a great deal of affection for the child. Van Gogh painted Blossoming Almond Tree to honour his namesake and it remains a tour-de-force, both the product of Vincent's fondness for his nephew as well as the Japanese art which he so greatly admired.

Japanese Influences

Vincent van Gogh mentions Japan more than a hundred times in dozens of his letters to friends and family. Interest in Japanese art and culture was quite popular in Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Edmond de Goncourt and Emile Zola, two writers that Van Gogh greatly admired, wrote extensively about Japan. Vincent, a devotee of both literature and art, would develop a deep admiration for Japanese culture via both of these media. Vincent was also a great admirer of the work of another writer, Pierre Loti, whose book Madame Chrysanthème, was highly influential in firing Van Gogh's imagination for Japanese traditions.

During the course of his career, Vincent would copy three Japanese paintings and several others were deeply influenced by his admiration for Japanese art (this self-portrait, for example). In 1888 Vincent wrote to Theo "About this staying on in the South, even if it is more expensive, consider: we like Japanese painting, we have felt its influence, all the impressionists have that in common; then why not go to Japan, that is to say to the equivalent of Japan, the South?" (Letter 500).

Three Beauties by Utagawa Kunisada Blossoming Almond Tree has clear Japanese influences and may have been inspired by one of the more than 400 wood block prints in the collection of Vincent and Theo (now with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam): specifically Three Beauties (right) by ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865).

Further on the influence of Japanese art on Van Gogh's paintings and drawings:

. . . Van Gogh's works of his Saint-Rémy and Auvers period still show some traces of Japanese influence. In his 'Death's-head moth', 'Butterflies and poppies' and 'Hyacinth', for example, Van Gogh depicted small plants and insects. Both the subjects and the asymmetrical close-ups are very similar to Japanese kachô (flowers and birds) pictures, which Van Gogh had seen on various occasions. In Arles Van Gogh had written about the reproductions in Bing's Le Japon Artistique: 'I think the drawing of the blade of grass and the carnations and the Hokusai in Bing's reproductions are admirable' [542]. 'Death's-head moth', 'Butterflies and poppies', 'Hyacinth' and other works of similar subject and composition not only show the mere pictorial influence of Japanese art, but also reveal Van Gogh's sympathy for the Japanese 'who live in nature as though they themselves were flowers' [542].

Without his sympathy for the Japanese as 'naturalists' and the inspiration from the kachô pictures, Van Gogh could possibly not have painted such monumental late works as the 'Irises', 'Branches of an almond tree in blossom', 'Roots and tree-trunks' and 'Ears of wheat'.1

Mentioned in Letters

Vincent van Gogh frequently wrote to Theo and other artists about his ongoing projects. These letters give us a unique insight into Van Gogh's art works and progress as an artist. Blossoming Almond Tree is unique among his works in that he wrote about it not only to Theo and his sister, Willemina, but also to his mother. In addition, Theo's wife, Johanna, wrote to Vincent about Blossoming Almond Tree, clearly showing that the painting was not only well presented by Vincent, but also very well received by Theo and Johanna in Paris. As Vincent's final days approached, Blossoming Almond Tree, a delicate study of hope and renewed life, would stand as an ironic harbinger of the tragic summer that loomed ahead.

  • I started right away to make a picture for [Theo's son], to hang in their bedroom, big branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky.

    Letter 627
    Vincent to his mother
    St. Rémy, c. 20 February 1890

  • My work was going well, the last canvas of branches in blossom--you will see that it was perhaps the best, the most patiently worked thing I had done, painted with calm and with a greater firmness of touch. And the next day, down like a brute. Difficult to understand, things like that, but alas! it's like that.

    Letter 628
    Vincent to Theo
    St. Rémy, 15 April 1890

  • I felt ill at the time I was doing the almond blossoms. If I had been able to go on working, you can judge from it that I would have done others of trees in blossom. Now the trees in blossom are almost over, really I have no luck.

    Letter 629
    Vincent to Theo
    St. Rémy, 30 April 1890

  • I brought along a relatively large picture for Theo's and Jo's little boy--which they hung over the piano--white almond blossoms--big branches against a sky-blue background . . . .

    Letter W22
    Vincent to his sister, Wil
    Auvers-sur-Oise, 5 June 1890

  • What he does do is look at Uncle Vincent's pictures with a good deal of interest--the tree in blossom especially, which is hanging over his bed, seems to enthrall him.

    Letter T30
    Johanna van Gogh-Bonger to Vincent
    Paris, 29 March 1890


Footnotes

1. Charlotte van Rappard-Boon, Willem van Gulik, Keiko van Bremen-Ito (eds.), Japanese Prints Catalogue of the Van Gogh Museum Collection (Waanders, 2006--revised edition), pp. 40-41.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired Comments
Theo van Gogh Paris France 1890-91  
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger Amsterdam Netherlands 1891-1925  
V.W. van Gogh Laren Netherlands 1925-62  
Van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam Netherlands 1962 On loan to the Stedelijk Museum 1962-73.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam Netherlands 1973 On permanent loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1892 The Hague Netherlands Haagsche Kunstkring (Buitenhof) Werken van Vincent van Gogh 16 May 1892 6 June 1892 45
1905 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Tentoonstelling Vincent van Gogh 15 July 1905 1 August 1905 99
1914 Antwerp Belgium Zaal Comité voor Artistieke Werking L'art contemporain. Salon 1914 / Kunst van Heden, Tentoonstelling 1914 7 March 1914 5 April 1914  
1914 Berlin (1) Germany Paul Cassirer Vincent van Gogh 30 März 1853-29 July 1890. Zehnte Ausstellung 1 June 1914 5 July 1914 125
1915 Amsterdam Netherlands Gebouw van het Genootschap van kunstenaren Moderne Kunstkring Vincent van Gogh, werken van genooten. schilderijen, teekeningen en beeldhouwwerien 26 September 1915 30 November 1915 15
1930 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh en zijn tijdgenooten 6 September 1930 2 November 1930 93
1945 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh 14 September 1945 1 December 1945 ---
1953 The Hague Netherlands Haags Gemeentemuseum Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 30 March 1953 17 May 1953 168
1953 Otterlo Netherlands Kröller-Müller Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 1853-1953 24 May 1953 19 July 1953 168
1953 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Eeuwfeest Vincent van Gogh 23 July 1953 20 September 1953 168
1953 Saint Louis United States City Art Museum of Saint Louis Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 17 October 1953 13 December 1953 143
1954 Toledo United States Toledo Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 7 March 1953 30 April 1953 143
1954 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 1853-1890 2 January 1954 28 February 1954 143
1955 Antwerp (1) Belgium Feestzaal Vincent van Gogh 7 May 1955 19 June 1955 309
1958 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 6 October 1958 30 November 1958 64
1958-59 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 10 December 1958 18 January 1959 64
1959 Portland United States Portland Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 28 January 1959 1 March 1959 64
1959 Seattle United States Seattle Art Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 7 March 1959 19 April 1959 64
1960 Montreal Canada Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 6 October 1960 6 November 1960 70
1960 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Canada Collects: European Painting 1860-1960 17 November 1960 18 December 1960 70
1960-61 Winnipeg Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 29 December 1960 31 January 1961 70
1961 Toronto Canada Art Gallery of Toronto Vincent van Gogh. Paintings-Drawings 10 February 1961 12 March 1961 70
1961 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 18 October 1961 26 November 1961 60
1961-62 Cleveland United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 5 December 1961 14 January 1962 60
1962 Buffalo United States Albright Art Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 30 January 1962 11 March 1962 60
1962 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 22 March 1962 29 April 1962 60
1963 Humlebaek Denmark Louisiana Vincent van Gogh. Malerier og Tegninger 24 October 1963 15 December 1963 45
1964 Washington, D.C. United States Washington Gallery of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 February 1964 19 March 1964 45
1964 New York (4) United States Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings 2 April 1964 28 June 1964 45
1965 Charleroi Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 January 1965 28 March 1965 32
1965 Ghent Belgium Museum voor Schone Kunsten Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen, Aquarellen, Tekeningen 19 February 1965 21 March 1965 32
1965 Stockholm Sweden Moderna Museet Vincent van Gogh. Mälningar, Akvareller, Teckningar 23 October 1965 19 December 1965 51
1965-66 Gothenburg Sweden Göteborgs Konstmuseum Vincent van Gogh. Mälningar, Akvareller, Teckningar 30 December 1965 20 February 1966 51
1967 Wolfsburg Germany Stadhalle Wolfsburg Vincent van Gogh. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen 18 February 1967 2 April 1967 65
1968-69 London United Kingdom Hayward Gallery Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings of the Vincent van Gogh Foundation Amsterdam 23 October 1968 12 January 1969 178
1970 Baltimore United States Baltimore Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 October 1970 29 November 1970 60
1970-71 San Francisco United States M.H. de Young Memorial Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 11 December 1970 31 January 1971 60
1971 Brooklyn United States Brooklyn Museum Vincent van Gogh. Paintings and Drawings 14 February 1971 4 April 1971 60
1973 Bern Switzerland Kunstmuseum Bern Vincent van Gogh. Collection du Musée National Vincent van Gogh à Amsterdam 25 January 1973 15 April 1973 40
1986-87 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers 12 November 1986 22 March 1987 49
1990 Amsterdam Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Vincent van Gogh. Schilderijen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 114
1997 Tokyo Japan Seiji Togo Memorial Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh and His Time. Four Seasons from the Vincent van Gogh Museum and the H.W. Mesdag Museum 12 September 1997 11 November 1997  
1998-99 Washington, D.C. United States National Gallery of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 4 October 1998 3 January 1999 66
1999 Los Angeles United States Los Angeles County Museum of Art Van Gogh's Van Goghs. Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam 17 January 1999 16 May 1999 66
1999 Amsterdam (1) Netherlands Van Gogh Museum Theo Van Gogh: Art Dealer, Collector, Vincent's Brother 24 June 1999 5 September 1999  
1999-2000 Paris France Musée d'Orsay Theo Van Gogh: Art Dealer, Collector, Vincent's Brother 29 September 1999 9 January 2000  


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