Vincent Van Gogh paints The Alpilles with Olive Trees in the Foreground in 1889, while in Saint-RÃ©my, France. He was being treated in an asylum after having a breakdown and mutilating his ear. His stay was voluntary, as he knew he needed help but had little money. After recovering a bit of his health, the artist was allowed to wander around the asylum to paint the landscapes.
During this period, Van Gogh did a series of paintings featuring the many trees he saw, like poplars, cypress and olive trees — being that he portrayed the olive trees in almost twenty different paintings. Painting en plein air — in other words, painting outside — was of great importance to the Impressionist painters, just as it was to the Post-Impressionists, like Van Gogh. This interest was because they searched to represent the optical effect natural light had on different figures and landscapes. Van Gogh took this to the next level when he incorporates his beautiful use of complementary color pallets and lively brush strokes.
The modern artist paints The Alpilles with Olive Trees in the Foreground at the same time he does the study of the Starry Night. He writes about how these two works complement each other — by one being the nighttime version of the other — in a letter to his brother Theo. He also writes about how he wished to go past the photographic perfection some painters insisted on portraying, calling it silly.
Van Gogh depicted a landscape with the French Alpes of Mont Blanc in dark blue in the far background — a theme seen in many other of his paintings. Like the title states, he paints olive trees in the foreground. The twisted trees form a diagonal line that breaks the mostly horizontal figures, taking up about half of the canvas. The leaves of the first tree are more detailed than the rest, seeing that it is closed to the viewer, with a variety of shades of green and the tree trunks are brown and blue. The swirling ground mixes shades of yellow, blue, green, and white. The clear sky is light blue and has a centered bubbly white, yellow and blue cloud, in an almost embryonic shape. The figures have dark contours resembling the Japanese woodcuts that deeply inspired Van Gogh.
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