The Alyscamps date back to the first weeks of Vincent van Gog’s stay with Paul Gauguin in Arles in October 1888. That period is marked by an absolute osmosis, both personal and artistic, between the two artists: they spend all their time together, take long walks, share their meals, and paint the same subjects. For their first common subject they go to Alyscamps, a Roman-era necropolis less than one kilometre from the famous Yellow House. The name in the Provençal dialect means “Champs Elysées/Elysium”, and in 1888 the cemetery is left with only one row of poplar trees and some sarcophagi. Van Gogh carried out four paintings in total. The first two, one of which is presented here in vertical position, depict a global perspective towards the poplars.
Nowhere in his correspondence does Van Gogh quote the name of Alyscamps. He only mentions the subject he describes by emphasizing the element of particular interest: colour.
The present version is probably the first that Van Gogh painted inside the archaeological site; an assumption allowed by the cloth he used, which was thin and with thick weaving. For that first test, Van Gogh took a seat at the centre of the row of trees, offering us a perspective embracing poplars, sarcophagi, carpet of fallen leaves covering the road to Saint-Honorat church, and the adjacent industrial building, with thick smoke coming out of its two chimneys. The unique trace of life in the landscape is a couple whose hasty treatment leaves us hardly distinguishing the woman’s traditional costume and the man’s red trousers, probably Zouave. Despite the vivid colours and the dominant yellow-orange, so characteristic of Van Gogh’s work, the composition emanates a deep melancholy, which can be attributed to many reasons: the autumn, the fallen leaves, the empty sarcophagi, the desert tree row, the invasion of industry.
In his approach, Van Gogh reveals a troubled and tormented inner world. The rush, one would say, with which he adds his brushstrokes the one on the other, brings to light the painter’s need to capture a transient impression as quickly as possible. At the same time, it highlights his great talent as a landscape artist, as well as his ability to breathe life into subjects that, by themselves, have nothing to do with it.
Private collection, London, late 1920s
Galerie Alfred Daber, Paris
Edwin C. Vogel, New York
Sam Salz Inc., New York
Private collection, since 1971
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Vincent van Gogh, July - August 1924, no. 40
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Cinquante Ans de Peinture Française, 1925, no. 80
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Vincent van Gogh, Exposition Rétrospective, 20 June - 2 July 1927
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh enzijn Tijdenooten, September - November 1930, no. 71
Basel, Kunsthalle, Vincent van Gogh, October - November 1947, no. 70
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Europaische Meister, June - July 1955, no. 102
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Vincent van Gogh, 1955, no. 36
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 25thAnniversary, 1955, no. 46
Los Angeles, Municipal Art Commission, Vincent van Gogh, 1957, no. 11
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vincent van Gogh, 1959, no. 56
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die Welt des Impressionismus, June - September 1963, no. 52, ill.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vincent van Gogh, 1968, no. 45
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Van Gogh in Arles, 18 October - 30 December 1984, no. 115, ill. p. 197
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, The Magic of Trees, 22 November 1998 - 18 April 1999
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Classics of Modern Art, 27 June - 19 September 1999, pp. 80-83, ill. p. 81
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Theodore Duret, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1916, ill. XXIX
L’Amour de l’Art, vol. VI, no. 7, July 1925, ill. p. 275
Florent Fels, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1928, ill. p. 186
Willem Sherjon and Willem Josiah de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh’s Great Period: Arles, Saint-Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, Amsterdam, 1937, no. 124
Jacob-Baart de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, London, New York, 1939, no. 551
Louis de Hautecoeur, Vincent van Gogh, Monaco, 1946, ill.
Jacob-Baart de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, New York, revised edition, 1970, no. 568, ill. p. 238
Mark W. Roskill, Gauguin and the Impressionist Circle, London, 1970, pp. 136-137, ill. 109
The Art of Paul Gauguin, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Art Institute, Chicago, Grand Palais, Paris, 1988-1989, ill. p. 132
Vincent van Gogh: Correspondance générale, ed. Georges Charensol, Paris, 1990, vol. 3, p. 387, 396
Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzger, Vincent van Gogh, The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 1990, vol. 2, ill. p. 449
Jan Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, revised and enlarged edition of the Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1996, no. 1622, ill. p. 373
Bradley Collins, Van Gogh and Gauguin, Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams, Boulder, Colorado, 2001, ill. p. 133
S. Hollis-Clayson, “Some Things Bear Fruit? Witnessing the Bonds between Van Gogh and Gauguin”, The Art Bulletin, December 2002, vol. LXXXIV, no. 4, pp. 670-684, ill.