Samuel Palmer, “The Sleeping Shephard” 1832.
“Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself.”
– L.W. Gilbert
Van Gogh, “The Sower”
I never tire of this painting with its honeyed hues, mysterious light, and those dark, confident lines. Despite the intensity of the composition, this is a soft and intimate scene depicting a solitary man, sowing seeds, creating life. The painting is overwhelmingly tranquil, especially to urban eyes.
Perhaps though the reality is starkly different, perhaps the farm worker is exhausted, living a gruelling existence.
I feel, however, that this work is about the cycle of life and death. The simplicity of the composition makes this message all the more powerful. The almost bare tree has a few leaves emerging. The sun is rising, or setting. The earth is barren but will soon be brimming with life, and only then will the man reap the rewards of his labour. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s words:
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
The man in this painting is anonymous, his identity is not important. He is simply another soul acting out his part in life.
There is a reason why Van Gogh’s paintings are so coveted today. He had the ability to capture or convey something so extraordinarily primal, so dark, and yet so comforting in his landscapes, something that is inside each and every one of us. Something that we all long to return too.
Claude Monet, “Water Lilies” 1916.
John Constable, “The Traveller”
Cezanne, “Le Mont Saint-Victoire” 1902-4. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Gustav Courbet, “The Valley of the Loue in Stormy Weather” 1849.
J.M.W. Turner, “Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory): The Morning After the Deluge,” Tate Britain
Turner: The first impressionist.
Auguste Renoir, “Springtime in Chatou” 1875.
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran
Gustav Courbet, “The Chateau de Chillon” 1873
Botticelli, detail of irises from “Primavera” c.1478