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Tree Roots in a Sandy Ground ("Les Racines")

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Details
Pencil, black chalk, brush in ink, brown and grey wash, opaque watercolour on watercolour paper
51.5 x 70.7 cm.
The Hague: April-May, 1882
F 933r, JH 142
Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum


History
Provenance
Exhibitions

Analysis
See below


This watercolour was previously known by the title Study of a Tree (see both the 1970 De la Faille catalogue raisonné and the 1996 Hulsker catalogue raisonné). The Kröller-Müller Museum, however, has given this watercolour a title taken from Van Gogh's own letters (see below). "Les Racines" is French for "The Roots" and Van Gogh was writing to his brother Theo from The Hague in French.

In 1882 Vincent van Gogh was living in The Hague with Clasina Maria Hoornik (known as Sien). Their relationship was a turbulent one and would ultimately end in separation. It's certainly possible that Van Gogh himself was experiencing raw and unhappy emotions at the time he produced this specific work. The following excerpt from a 1 May 1882 letter to Theo supports this assumption:

I’ve now finished two larger drawings. First of all, Sorrow, but in a larger format, the figure alone without surroundings. But the pose has been altered somewhat, the hair doesn’t hang down the back but to the front, part of it in a plait. This brings the shoulder, the neck and back into view. And the figure has been drawn with more care.

The other one, ‘Roots’, is some tree roots in sandy ground. I’ve tried to imbue the landscape with the same sentiment as the figure.

Frantically and fervently rooting itself, as it were, in the earth, and yet being half torn up by the storm. I wanted to express something of life’s struggle, both in that white, slender female figure and in those gnarled black roots with their knots. Or rather, because I tried without any philosophizing to be true to nature, which I had before me, something of that great struggle has come into both of them almost inadvertently. At least it seemed to me that there was some sentiment in it, though I may be mistaken, anyway, you’ll have to see for yourself.

(Letter 195)

In a second letter to Theo written one day later Van Gogh mentioned another version of "Les Racines" which he completed in one sitting. Van Gogh scholar Teio Meedendorp believes that the drawing Van Gogh mentions in his first letter (above) is the one in the Kröller-Müller collection--in part because it's unlikely that a watercolour of such complexity could have been completed in a single sitting.

Van Gogh was no doubt very pleased with the final outcome of this watercolour. Note the signature: "Atelier Vincent." In Van Gogh's drawings, watercolours and paintings he would only sign those works that he was most proud of. Van Gogh had a critical eye of his own works and would only sign 22% of his drawings and watercolours. In this specific watercolour the signature "Atelier Vincent" was an appellation that Van Gogh would use rarely--only ten times in all of his 1,098 drawings and watercolours.

It's clear from the superb execution of this watercolour that Van Gogh's career as a expert draughtsman was well underway.


References

1. Teio Meedendorp, Drawings and Prints by Vincent van Gogh in the Collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum (Thieme Grafimedia Groep, 2007), pp. 132-33.


Provenance

Owner City Country Date acquired
J. Hidde Nijland The Hague Netherlands Before 1895
A.G. Kröller The Hague Netherlands July, 1928
Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo Netherlands December, 1928


Exhibitions

Year City Country Venue Exhibition Name Start Date End Date No.
1895 The Hague Netherlands Haagsche Kunstkring Tentoonstelling van teekeningen van Vincent van Gogh 17 February 1895 3 March 1895 ---
1897 Dordrecht Netherlands Pictura Vincent van Gogh, Collectie Hidde Nijland 18 February 1897 25 February 1897 ---
1904 Dordrecht Netherlands Dordrechts Museum Verzameling Hidde Nijland. Tentoongesteld ter gelegenheid van de opening van het Dordrechts Museum 6 July 1904  
196
1918 The Hague Netherlands Haagsche Kunstkring Vincent van Gogh. Aquarellen, teekeningen en schetsen verzameling Hidde Nijland 6 April 1918 29 April 1918 69
1924 Amsterdam Netherlands Gebouw voor Beeldende Kunst Vincent van Gogh tentoonstelling  

131
1928 The Hague Netherlands Kunstzaal Kleykamp Tentoonstelling van aquarellen, teekeningen en schetsen door Vincent van Gogh. Verzameling Hidde Nijland  
 
---
1929 Hamburg Germany Kunstverein Vincent van Gogh. Sammlung Kröller-Müller im Haag 14 March 1929 21 May 1929 42
1930 Amsterdam Netherlands Stedelijk Museum Vincent van Gogh en zijn tijdgenooten 6 September 1930 2 November 1930 58
1935-36 New York United States Museum of Modern Art Vincent van Gogh 5 November 1935 5 January 1936 78
1936 Cleveland (1) United States Cleveland Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 25 March 1936 19 April 1936 78
1936 Boston United States Museum of Fine Arts Vincent van Gogh 19 February 1936 15 March 1936 78
1936 Detroit United States Detroit Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 6 October 1936 28 October 1936 78
1936 Minneapolis United States Minneapolis Institute of Arts Vincent van Gogh 20 July 1936 17 August 1936 78
1936 Philadelphia United States Philadelphia Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh 11 January 1936 10 February 1936 78
1936 Kansas City United States William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum Vincent van Gogh 9 June 1936 10 July 1936 78
1936 San Francisco United States California Palace of the Legion of Honor Vincent van Gogh 28 April 1936 24 May 1936 78
1936 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh 26 August 1936 23 September 1936 78
1946 Brussels Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 9 November 1946 19 December 1946 7
1946 Liège Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 12 October 1946 3 November 1946 7
1946-47 Mons Belgium Musée des Beaux-Arts Vincent van Gogh 27 December 1946
7
1947 Paris (1) France Musée de l'Orangerie Vincent van Gogh 24 January 1947 15 March 1947 7
1947 Geneva Switzerland Musée Rath 172 oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh 22 March 1947 20 April 1947 7
1949-50 New York United States Metropolitan Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 21 October 1949 15 January 1950 17
1950 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Vincent van Gogh Paintings and Drawings. A Special Loan Exhibition 1 February 1950 16 April 1950 17
1952 Milan Italy Palazzo Reale Van Gogh. Dipinti e disegni 23 February 1952 13 May 1952 15
1956 Nuremberg Germany Fränkische Galerie Vincent van Gogh Zeichnungen und Aquarelle von Vincent van Gogh, aus dem Besitz des Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller und von Anderen Leihgebern 12 February 1956 11 March 1956 17
1957 Essen Germany Villa Hügel Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Leben und Schaffen. Dokumentation Gemälde, Zeichnungen 16 October 1957 15 December 1957 136
1958 Tokyo Japan Tokyo National Museum Vincent van Gogh from the Collection Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 15 October 1958 25 November 1958 21
1958 Kyoto Japan Municipal Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh from the Collection Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 3 December 1958 27 December 1958 21
1962 London (1) United Kingdom Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. Van Gogh's Life in His Drawings. Van Gogh's Relationship with Signac
 
13
1966 Arnhem Netherlands Gemeentemuseum Arnhem Zestig schilderijen en tekeningen van Vincent van Gogh uit het Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller te Otterlo 22 January 1966 27 February 1966 ---
1973 New York (1) United States Museum of Modern Art Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo 23 May 1973  
34
1973 Chicago United States Art Institute of Chicago Drawings from the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 8 September 1973 21 October 1973 34
1973-74 Ottawa Canada National Gallery of Canada Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo  

34
1974 San Antonio United States Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo

34
1974 Mexico City Mexico Museum of Modern Art Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo

34
1974 London United Kingdom Courtauld Institute Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo  
 
24
1974 Newcastle-Upon-Tyne United Kingdom Hatton Gallery (King's College) Drawings from the Kröller-Müller National Museum, Otterlo
 
24
1990 Otterlo Netherlands Kröller-Müller Museum Vincent van Gogh. Tekeningen 30 March 1990 29 July 1990 34
1991 Aarhus Denmark Aarhus Kunstmuseum Northern Romantic Painting 1790-1990
 
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1995-96 Yokohama Japan Yokohama Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh Collection from the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands 9 December 1995 11 February 1996 18
1996 Nagoya Japan City Art Museum Vincent van Gogh Collection from the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands 17 February 1996 22 March 1996 18
1999-2000 Tokyo Japan Bunkamura Museum of Art Vincent van Gogh from the Kröller-Müller Museum 19 November 1999 23 January 2000 19
2000 Fukuoka Japan Fukuoka Art Museum Vincent van Gogh from the Kröller-Müller Museum 1 February 2000 23 March 2000 19
2007-08 Madrid (2) Spain Fundación Juan March The Abstraction of Landscape. From Northern Romanticism to Abstract 5 October 2007 13 January 2008 69


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