|Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon|
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 45.5 cm.
Saint-Rémy: May, 1890
F 704, JH 1981
Sao Paulo: Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo
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Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon is one of the lesser recognized landscapes from Vincent van Gogh's Saint-Rémy period. Although rarely exhibited outside its home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, this painting nevertheless presents some interesting aspects for the viewer--both compositional and thematic.
Colours and composition
Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon is an intriguing composite of common themes found in works throughout Van Gogh's career, but at the same time some specific characteristics set it aside from other paintings.
Olive trees and cypresses are often portrayed in paintings from Van Gogh's Saint-Rémy period. But the trees in Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon are less imposing and less intricately detailed. Van Gogh's cypresses are famous, but those seen in the current work appear in the distance almost as an afterthought, lacking the majesty and turbulence that so often characterize Van Gogh's cypress trees. The olive trees, too, appear small and brush-like, lacking in the stately olive orchards found in paintings such as Olive Grove. The "toned down" quality of the trees is likely intentional, however, so as not to divert attention from the couple in the foreground.
The painting is unusual, too, in that it depicts twilight. The vast majority of Van Gogh's Arles and Saint-Rémy works are set in daylight under the scorching Provençal sun. Twilight landscapes were more common in the early years of Van Gogh's career (see Autumn Landscape at Dusk, from the Nuenen period, for example), but in later years Van Gogh abandoned twilight scenes for the most part. Without question, Van Gogh took wonderful stylistic license with his skies--blazing crescent moons shimmering in broad daylight (see Table 1 below), but the straightforward depiction of dawn and dusk was rare in the last years of Van Gogh's career.
Unusual, too, is the almost square size of the canvas of Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon. With a few notable exceptions (Van Gogh's "double square" landscape paintings from his Auvers period, for example), Van Gogh executed works in a standard portrait or landscape format--regardless of the size of canvas used. In his Paris period Van Gogh experimented with some charming oval works (Basket of Sprouting Bulbs, for example), but for the most part he preferred a standard rectangular format. The current work is notable for its uncharacteristically square ratio.
In addition to some of the intriguing stylistic nuances of Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon, there are also some contradictions in terms of the painting's background which warrant attention.
The dating, for example. Most references place the work late in Van Gogh's Saint-Rémy period, but as Ronald Pickvance points out, there are suggestions that the work may, in fact, have been executed several months earlier in October, 1889.1
Another contradiction arises with regards to whether Van Gogh ever mentioned Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon in his letters. Pickvance maintains that the painting is never once mentioned in any of Van Gogh's surviving letters2 and yet one of the world's foremost authorities on the letters, Jan Hulsker, states that the work is mentioned in two of Van Gogh's letters: 644 and W13. Surprisingly, Hulsker appears to be mistaken. Letter 644 describes several paintings Van Gogh was working on, but the description that matches the current work the most closely would seem to be "a cypress with a star" and yet this is almost certainly Road with Cypress and Star and not Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon. In Letter W1 Van Gogh writes to his sister Wil of "the orchards of olive trees . . . with their very different skies of yellow, pink and blue colours" and yet the colours described are completely different than the greens and oranges of the current work.
As mentioned, the olive and cypress trees seen in Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon were a common theme throughout Van Gogh's years in the south of France. Other motifs in this painting also have their precedents.
While it's unfair (to say nothing of crudely anthropomorphic) to suggest that Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon has been upstaged by its other more famous "brothers" from the same period, it is true that it remains unduly unappreciated. One could argue that the painting lacks the technical depth of, say, Road with Cypress and Star, but the work truly stands on its own as a remarkable achievement. The commentary above demonstrates stylistic links to the other, more acclaimed paintings, but the unique combination of motif, colour and composition culminate in a rich and brilliantly executed work.
1. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986), p. 54.
|Johanna van Gogh-Bonger||Amsterdam||Netherlands|
|C.M. van Gogh (J.H. de Bois)||Amsterdam||Netherlands|
|A.G. Kröller||The Hague||Netherlands||1910|
|P.R. Bruckmann||The Hague||Netherlands||1910|
|Huinck and Scherjon Art Gallery||Amsterdam||Netherlands||
|Kröller-Müller Museum||Otterlo||Netherlands||4 February 1943|
|D'Audretsch Art Gallery||The Hague||Netherlands||4 April 1946|
|M. Frank Art Gallery||New York||United States||
|Wildenstein Art Gallery||New York||United States||
|Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo||Sao Paulo||Brazil||
|Year||City||Country||Venue||Exhibition Name||Start Date||End Date||No.|
|1953-54||Paris||France||Musée de l'Orangerie||Chefs-d'oeuvre du Musée d'Art de Sao Paulo||
|1954||Utrecht||Netherlands||Centraal Museum||Meesterwerken uit Sao Paulo||6 March 1954||2 May 1954||54|
|1955||New York (2)||United States||Wildenstein and Co.||Vincent van Gogh Loan Exhibition||24 March 1955||30 April 1955||56|
|1986-87||New York||United States||Metropolitan Museum of Art||Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers||12 November 1986||22 March 1987||54|
|1987||Verona||Italy||Palazzo Forti||Da Monet a Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings from the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP)||4 July 1987||27 September 1987|
|1987||Monza||Italy||Serrone della Villa Reale||Da Monet a Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings from the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP)||7 October 1987||6 December 1987|
|1987-88||Genoa||Italy||Villa Croce||Da Monet a Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings from the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP)||17 December 1987||21 February 1988||
|2002||Sapporo||Japan||Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art||Vincent & Theo van Gogh||5 July 2002||25 August 2002||46|
|2002||Kobe||Japan||Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art||Vincent & Theo van Gogh||7 September 2002||4 November 2002||46|
|2002-03||Treviso||Italy||Casa dei Carraresi||L'Impressionismo e l'Età di Van Gogh||9 November 2002||30 March 2003||
|2005-06||Brescia||Italy||Museo di Santa Giulia||Gauguin-Van Gogh: The Adventure of the New Color||22 October 2005||26 March 2006||114|