GOGH, Vincent van
(b. 1853, Groot Zundert, d. 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)

The Sower

November 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 cm
Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam

Catalogue numbers: F 451, JH 1629.

Van Gogh has painted an autumnal scene of sowing. The motif of the peasant sowing had fascinated him since his earliest months as an artist. In 1880-81 he had made many copies of an etching he owned after one of the most famous paintings of a sower by Jean François Millet, as well as composing his own drawings of the theme by posing local Brabant models as sowers. He returned to the subject in June 1888 when he painted a landscape with a small figure of a sower in a field, dominated by a huge sun. In letters written in June he referred directly to Millet's Sower but he complained that it lacked colour. It was one of van Gogh's aims to correct this, in a sense to update the subject Millet had made so famous, and which was for van Gogh so resonant, by repainting the motif using modern colour theory. The canvas was planned in yellows and violets, though it did not finally conform to that scheme.

In the autumn he resumed The Sower, making two paintings, of which this one is a smaller and probably later version. He has used violet and yellow. The appeal of the sower motif for van Gogh was complex. It signified Millet, and van Gogh's allegiance to what he had stood for - rural themes in modern art; it signified the seasons and cycles of life and work. But it also referred to the Bible, especially the parable, a particular way of using a commonplace story to convey allegorical meaning.

In July 1889 van Gogh painted the complement to his sower, The Reaper, also in violet and yellow tones.