Sept. 1889 reduction of June 1889 original; Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 65 cm; Private Collection
The last two years of Van Gogh's life were productive of marvellous pictures--painted though they were under constant strain. During this period he travelled far from his Impressionist starting-point in Paris. The equable balance of Impressionism was replaced by an emotional turbulance. Calm objectivity gave way to the expression of intense feeling. Yet there remains an evolution that can be traced back to the time when his brother first showed him works by Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Cézanne and when he first began to apply separate patches of color in the manner of Seurat. The freedom and variety in the use of the brush that counted for so much in Impressionist painting still belong to his later work, though exaggerated and distorted by the agitations and difficult circumstances that followed his quarrel with Gauguin. The Neo-Impressionist juxtaposition of near-primary colors was also exaggerated to a point of intense brilliance.
This picture was painted at St Rémy in Provence after he had entered the asylum there in May 1889 and was one of three versions. It is possibly the painting he refers to in a letter to Theo written towards the end of June with `a cornfield very yellow' and the cypress--a tree just then `always occupying my thoughts' that was `a splash of black in a sunny landscape'. The whirling brushstrokes of the sky may at first give the disturbing suggestion of mental imbalance and violence beyond control, but the longer the picture is considered the more consistent it appears as a whole in the multitude of curves that twist and turn and repeat themselves throughout. Nor is it to be supposed that Van Gogh was incapable of anything else. The flame-like form of the cypress sets a key that is followed through with a pervading vibration that represents a sustained effort.