Created in the same Autumn as his Autumn Landscape and Autumn Landscape with Trees, Van Gogh's 1884 Avenue of Poplars in Autumn was painted when, astoundingly, the artist had only been working on his craft for three years. Thus, much of his work until his premature death Van Gogh would describe as a study – as indefatigable as he was to improve his skills continuously. Avenue of Poplars in Autumn is an exceptional study of light and shade, and a warm expression of promise, balance, and the regenerative cycle of the seasons.
Describing the work to his brother in a letter, Van Gogh details the joy in rendering a reproduction of the 'yellow autumn leaves, the sun casting, here and there, sparkling spots on the fallen leaves on the ground, alternating with the long shadows of the stems.' Throughout his autumn studies of that year one can note the gradual liberation of brighter colors, ingeniously brought forth through intricate contrasts of shade. A few years later, when the artist moved to Paris to acquaint himself with the techniques of the Impressionists, Van Gogh would abandon his subtle and subdued palette in favor a diverse and manic range of colors that would reflect the increasing severity of his mental health.
Avenue of Poplars in Autumn is a signature piece from Van Gogh's early years, displaying modesty, quiet intensity and the shifting nature of time manifested in the changing of physical landscapes. Constantly looking for signs of progress in his work, the autumn series are each vastly different achievements, avoiding regularity of expression for the sake of a more experiential reproduction of the season and the Dutch countryside. Soon after Avenue of Poplars in Autumn was painted Van Gogh would abandon the hues and tones of his palette, but his work would retain the surging vitality and energy he found in humble landscapes.
This painting portrays a road, centered on the canvas, and a house in the far background. Van Gogh positioned a single character on the forefront wearing all black and walking across a small cross bridge. The road was painted with shades of brown, red and orange. The tall tree trunks take up almost all of the long, vertical canvas – highlighting the path even more – and have red, orange and green leaves on top that contrast with the blue sky.
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