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Getty Museum Acquires Landscape Drawing by Vincent van Gogh

May 7, 2001

LOS ANGELES-The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired an important landscape drawing, Arles: View from the Wheatfields (1888), by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The pen and ink drawing was made during van Gogh's stay in Arles, in southern France, from February 1888 to May 1889, when he reached his artistic zenith, producing many of the key works for which he is revered. Arles: View from the Wheatfields is a defining image from this period.

Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, comments, "Arles: View from the Wheatfields crowns the Museum's collection of works by van Gogh. We had been actively seeking an iconic van Gogh landscape, and are very fortunate to have made this acquisition of one of his best renditions of the subject. The drawing contains everything one associates with van Gogh's genius: tremendously varied graphic strokes that fill and activate the entire sheet, subject matter that comments on the human condition, a golden glow that suggests the warm light of southern France, and a balanced but completely dynamic composition. The entire surface of the drawing crackles with both the energy of the radiant landscape and Vincent's intense visual and emotional involvement with it."

Measuring 12 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches (31.2 x 24.2 cm), the drawing is rendered in varied hues of golden brown ink. The vertical composition, in which forms grow smaller and denser as the eye moves up, leads the eye across the stubble of a newly cut wheat field framed by gathered stacks of wheat. In a middle zone, one encounters a harvest in progress: a man scythes a section of the field to knee-high level while a woman bundles cut wheat under her arm. The uppermost register shifts abruptly from the countryscape to the cityscape of Arles. Densely packed houses, factories, churches, and a railroad train stretch across the horizon. Juxtaposed to the more spacious rural scene below with its outdoor manual labor, the city and its factories churning smoke into the sky are a powerful reminder of the dawn of the machine world and its effect on traditional ways of life.

Arles: View from the Wheatfields is a landscape counterpart to one of van Gogh's greatest portrait drawings, also executed in Arles and now in the Getty's permanent collection, Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1888). Together with the Getty's painting Irises (1889) these works reveal van Gogh's creative process during the most fertile period in his career. The new acquisition also complements the Getty's Man with a Hoe (1860-62) by Barbizon painter Jean-François Millet (1814-75), whose scenes of peasant labor so inspired van Gogh's exploration of the landscape.

Lee Hendrix, curator of drawings for the Getty Museum, comments, "With its graphic dynamism and range of calligraphic strokes, Arles: View from the Wheatfield captures the essence of what made Van Gogh such an extraordinary draftsman, in full mastery of his use of the pen. It provides us with a truly great landscape drawing by van Gogh, and the perfect complement to our famous drawn portrait of the Arles postman, Joseph Roulin. Arles: View from the Wheatfield will surely become one of the signature images in the drawings collection at the Getty."

Drawing Based on a Painting

Like most of van Gogh's greatest drawings, this one is based on a painting, Arles: View from the Wheat Fields (now in the Musee Rodin in Paris), part of a series of harvest paintings he executed in June 1888. Vincent sent this as well as five other drawings after his paintings to his brother Theo on August 8, 1888. In the accompanying letter, Vincent wrote, "I think all these ideas are good, but the painted studies lack clearness of touch. That is another reason why I felt it necessary to draw them."

At this point in his career, making drawings after his completed paintings was an integral part of van Gogh's working process. One reason for this seems to arise from his highly experimental way of working, whereby the success of a composition depended on the intersecting textures and patterns of the strokes. In drawings after his own paintings, he continued to experiment with textures, patterns, direction of the strokes and compositional details. With the removal of color and the dependence on a purely graphic language, the drawings after the paintings take on their own independence and autonomy of expression.

Artists making drawings after their own completed paintings was in itself a common practice. Generally such drawings served as a sort of record (known as ricordo drawings) that would remain with the artist after the artwork left his studio, or as documentation of the installation of a work in the decoration of a church or palace. Arles: View from the Wheat Fields falls into a completely different category from the ricordo. For van Gogh the practice represents both a continual revision of the motifs of the paintings, as well as an attempt to achieve the expressive power of the paintings in another medium. Indeed, van Gogh's own words refer to the painting as a "painted study"-not as a finished work, but rather as the first attempt to realize an artistic idea.

The drawing shows the full range of van Gogh's graphic vocabulary, from the short curly stubble of the foreground, to the long, dark strokes of the wheat sheaves, to an array of dotting techniques that culminates in the myriad tiny flicks filling the sky. The intersecting patterns and flattened perspective make this one of van Gogh's most Japanese compositions, achieved under the influence of woodcuts by Hokusai and others.

The Getty's is one of three drawings after the artist's painting Arles: View from the Wheat Fields. The other two drawings are in the Mellon Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington and in a private collection. The Getty's new drawing previously belonged to Baron von Hirsch, one of the greatest drawings collectors of the 20th century. It was acquired by the Getty from the famed private collection of the dealer Heinz Berggruen.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.