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Wheat Field with Crows



Background Information


Wheat field with Crows was done in Auvers-sur-Oise, July 1890.
The painting, Wheat field with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh is one of Van Gogh's famous final works and is among the most controversial, most powerful, and probably the one most subject to speculation. The many interpretations of this particular work are probably more varied than any other in Van Gogh's oeuvre. Some see it as Van Gogh's "suicide note" put to canvas, while others delve beyond a superficial overview of the subject matter and favour a more positive approach. And some more extreme critics cast their vision even further--beyond the canvas and the brushstrokes--in order to translate the images into an entirely new language of the subliminal.
Many have claimed it was his last work, or even that he shot himself while he was painting it, seeing the dramatic, cloudy sky filled with crows and the cut-off path as obvious portents of his coming end. Yet contrary to popular myth Wheat Field with Crows is not Van Gogh's final work. Admittedly, it does make for a neatly wrapped interpretive gift if the painting really were Van Gogh's final work before his suicide. The painting is, without question, turbulent and certainly conveys a sense of loneliness in the fields--a powerful image of Van Gogh as defeated and solitary artist in his final years. Furthermore, both the popular films Lust for Life and Vincent and Theo rewrite history and depict this painting as Van Gogh's last--with more of an interest in dramatic effect than historical accuracy. As is ideally the case, however, an entertaining, though apocryphal, tale should be put to rest in the face of irrefutable fact.
Precise dating of Wheat Field with Crows is difficult because of its similarity to other works that Van Gogh was painting, and writing about, from the same period.


Why we choose this painting

Vincent van Gogh's final works are a paradox and this is probably no better demonstrated than in his work Wheat Field with Crows. Vincent's mental state during the last six months of his life fluctuated wildly. At times, Vincent was in good health and in seeming perfect control of his faculties; at others he was deep in the throes of complete mental breakdown. Some of his best and most moving works come from these months. There's a peace and near contentment in many of the paintings of parks and fields he undertook while in Auvers-sur-Oise. Given that, how then can one interpret Wheat Field with Crows? Many feel that the dramatic and stormy skies, as well as the churning wheat field with the ominous crows rising above it, are a clear reflection of Vincent's own mental state in his last days. Others find some glimmer of hope in the vibrant colours and the path which may finally lead to peace at last.


Description

In the foreground, stretching out horizontally across the painting is the wheat field. It covers more than half of the canvas and is painted in bright yellow colours. The brushwork is choppy and thick, which is a distinct art technique that Van Gogh had adopted during his lifetime as an artist. The paths in the fore ground are basically comprised of three sets: two in each foreground corner and a third in the middle winding toward the horizon. The left and right foreground paths defy logic in that they seem to originate from nowhere and lead to nowhere. The third, middle path ends abruptly at the further end of the wheat field, near the horizon. This leaves the viewer confused as to what is the symbolic meaning for the inescapable dead end. The flock of crows flying across the horizon also adds to the meaning of this painting. In the background, the dark and stormy night skies contrast with the vibrancy of the wheat field, giving a very unnatural feeling.


Analysis

The dramatic and stormy skies, as well as the churning wheat field with the ominous crows rising above it projected ominous overtones of distress. In such an ominous situation it is not easy to find an easy and quick way out and Vincent van Gogh appropriately included three paths, representing three different directions. As obvious as the choice may seem, it is incredibly hard to make a positive one as Vincent van Gogh probably discovered and shot himself in the wheat field and died two days later.
The painting probably represents Van Gogh's own inner torment and loneliness as a defeated and solitary artist in his final years.


Interpretation

The paths: It's not a difficult leap to symbolically equate the separate paths in Wheat Field with Crows with the paths, past and future, of Van Gogh's own life. The paths are basically comprised of three sets: two in each foreground corner and a third in the middle winding toward the horizon. The left and right foreground paths defy logic in that they seem to originate from nowhere and lead to nowhere. Some have interpreted this as Van Gogh's own ongoing confusion about the sporadic direction his own life had taken. The third, middle path has remained the most fertile for symbolic interpretation. Does the path lead anywhere? Does it successfully transverse the wheat field and seek new horizons? Or does it, in fact, terminate in an inescapable dead end? Van Gogh leaves it to the viewer to decide.
The sky: From his earliest years as an artist Van Gogh was fond of scenes involving stormy skies. Van Gogh held a great deal of respect for the forces of nature and includes turbulent skies in a number of his works because the subject is so powerful and so full of artistic potential in the face of an empty canvas. Furthermore, Van Gogh once wrote about the liberating possibilities of storms:

"The pilot sometimes succeeds in using a storm to make headway, instead of being wrecked by it."

Of course, as the years passed and Van Gogh's own mental state of well being became more battered, his perceptions toward nature may have darkened. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Van Gogh perceived storms as a vital and positive part of nature (admittedly, at least as he suggests in his earlier letters).
The crows: Perhaps the most powerful image within Wheat Field with Crows is that of the crows themselves. Again, much symbolic interpretation has sprung from the depiction of the flock of crows. Much of the speculation hinges on whether the crows are flying toward the painter (and, hence, the viewer) or away from him. If the viewer chooses to perceive the crows flying toward the foreground, then the work becomes more foreboding. If away, then a sense of relief is felt. The argument is flawed on two fronts.
First of all, as spirited and entertaining as the "flying toward / flying away" discussion might be, it's a point that will never be resolved. The truth is, there's no certain answer as to which direction, if any at all, the crows are flying. Much like "the chicken and the egg" argument, this point remains unsolvable and, consequently, moot.
Secondly, and more importantly, the interpretation of crows as harbingers of death is a completely artificial construct. And furthermore, one that Van Gogh, in his own writings, never appears to accept; on the contrary. Vincent van Gogh had a passion and a keen eye for all things in nature. As a result, his writings reflect an appreciation of, rather than a disdain for crows

On the other side, many people argued that this painting may not be his last painting before his death as it conveys a positive side. The crows which many believed represent the harbingers of death are said to be a completely artificial construct as Vincent van Gogh had a passion and a keen eye for all things in nature. Therefore, his letters to Theo reflect an appreciation of, rather than a disdain for crows. Furthermore, Van Gogh had included turbulent skies in a number of his works because the subject is so powerful and so full of artistic potential in the face of an empty canvas. Of course, as the years passed and Van Gogh's own mental state of well being become more battered, his perceptions toward nature may have darkened. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Van Gogh perceived storms as a vital and positive part of nature.



Self Opinion

Overall, the painting is one that will and already had left a deep impact on all of us for its symbolic interpretations and vivid colours. If Van Gogh had wanted to convey and express his inner turmoil and struggle as an unsuccessful artist, he had done a good job as the painting, with its gloomy, gathering sky scattered with a nightmare flock of crows and a wheat field rent with a road down its center is enough to make the viewer feel his immense loneliness. Not to add that each brushstroke seemed to have a life of its own and seemed to shriek in agony, each tiny detail of the painting was weighted with meaning, saying a thousand words behind the vivid colours and brushstrokes.


Extra Information

If one focuses specifically on the cloud bundle on the mid-right side of the sky, one can find a hidden image if this area is rotated 130 degrees counter-clockwise. The close-up of this image clearly depicts a left ear. Everyone familiar with the story of Vincent van Gogh is well-aware of the artist's mutilation of his left ear. What message was Van Gogh trying to convey by concealing this image within Wheat Field with Crows? What secrets does this previously undiscovered image reveal?
In a word, none.
It's somewhat entertaining to speculate about such things, just as it's enjoyable to lay under a tree and search for elephants and dragons in the fleeting clouds of the summer sky. But to firmly maintain that Van Gogh deliberately hid subliminal images within his works is an effort in futility. Worse still, it's an endeavour that detracts from an appreciation of the overall work itself and, by the desperate need to see beyond the limits of the naked eye, it's a pursuit that is ultimately self-defeating.

1 Comments:

  • Whatever it is we're searching for, Vincent found it. He wailed at the sky with every brush stroke on this canvas, in torn agony. Van Gogh shot himself in the chest not to find death but to stop feeling. He placed a bullet where he felt most intensely.

    By Blogger Dunbar, at 3:04 AM  

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