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

Sheaves of Wheat

August 1885, Nuenen
Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo

Catalogue numbers: F 193, JH 914.

In December 1883 van Gogh moved back to the region in which he had grown up, Brabant. His aims as an artist, initially evolved in Drenthe, were to be realized in Brabant, in the 'heart of rural life'. He would become a painter of peasants, in the footsteps of Jean François Millet, who was for van Gogh the peasant painter and the founder of modern art. In Nuenen van Gogh was able to paint and draw more from the figure; the rural labourers of Brabant were often unemployed and, because they needed money, they agreed to pose for the painter. The most important work of this period in Nuenen was a multi-figure composition of peasants at home eating their meal - The Potato-Eaters (1885; Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller). The picture was harshly criticized. Van Rappard, friend and fellow artist, questioned van Gogh's right to claim comparison with Millet. To answer this, van Gogh began a series of large drawings of men and women digging, cutting wood, gleaning - tasks which Millet had represented in his series of drawings, Labours of the Fields.

Van Gogh also responded to the disappointment of his ambitions for The Potato Eaters by returning to pure landscapes, but using a brighter and richer palette than he had been able to in Drenthe. This painting of a wheat sheaf is typical of these new colour studies. The centrality and scale of the motif, set against simple bands of varying yellow-golden tones, presents the wheat sheaf almost as a surrogate figure.