Sunday, February 14, 2010
A Snowy Day
No snow on the ground here in Tampa Bay, of course, but since much of the rest of the country -- including my hometown in Georgia -- has at least a few inches lying around, seems a good time to introduce one of van Gogh's rare snowscapes. "Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background" (click image to enlarge) dates from late February or early March 1888, just after Vincent arrived in Arles. He'd stepped off the train on February 20th to a surprising sight: about 12 inches of snow covering the Provençal landscape. The irony? Well, firstly that Arles rarely saw that kind of snowfall, and secondly, that van Gogh had come south seeking the sun and a warmer climate. In a letter to Theo after his arrival, he expressed surprise at the weather but then added optimistically that the snow-blanketed landscape reminded him of some Japanese prints.
"Snowy Landscape" shows a view of Arles that Vincent would later depict in summer: the city's skyline distant on the horizon, a vast, flat field in between. We can spot the towers of the various churches, including Saint-Trophime, as well as smokestacks of the PLM railway workshops. Appropriately for the wintry day, no figures can be seen, although footprints dot the snow...the artist's own? The composition of this painting recalls seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters such as Jacob van Ruisdael, whose work Vincent admired, although Ruisdael's landscapes tend to show a more expansive sky. Lest we think this snowy landscape is too melancholy, van Gogh includes hints of green, suggesting some plants have survived the snowfall and wait eagerly for spring. Just like Vincent himself must have done!