From The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston:
The Rocks depicts a specific area in the South of France called Montmajour, a rocky terrain located a few miles north of the city of Arles. Painting on site was a struggle for Vincent van Gogh, because the fierce, blustering winds that swept through this region whipped violently against his canvases.
Van Gogh’s own creative energy leaps outward through his vigorous brushwork and the astonishing variety of strokes with which he laid down his unmixed colors. The forceful way he moves paint around on the canvas makes his work almost instantly recognizable. One senses the speed and vigor with which Van Gogh transcribed this scene to canvas, capturing the wild, almost electric presence of the site. The artist’s manic marking, combined with his broad exploitation of greens, blues, and yellows, makes for an exceeding lively image. The composition—strong and simplified, with the rocks stepping their way back to the craggy tree—grounds the potential chaos of colors and marks. Theo van Gogh, the artist’s brother, was so taken by this painting that he immediately framed it and hung it beside The Sower, one of Vincent’s undisputed masterpieces.
To Theo van Gogh. Antwerp, on or about Friday, 22 January 1886.
My dear Theo,
I’ve been painting there for a few days now and it suits me very well. Above all because there are all sorts of painters there, and I see them working in very diverse ways — something I’ve never had — often seeing other people at work.
It’s by far the best for me to stay there for a long time — for the models there are good and it’ll work out better that way.
I say again what I’ve already said to you before, you’ve formed a false impression about the expenses of painting and the models, and it’s much harder than you evidently realize, particularly when one works alone. But we’ll hope that this way there might be some improvement. We’re getting new models on Monday — that’s when I actually start properly. Now I ought to have had a large canvas by Monday — I’ve also been explicitly told that I have to have other brushes &c. besides what I have.
But I’ve no money left. So it’s really pressing, and so I do wish that you’d do what you could, for I’m also doing what I can, and it’s constantly the case that there’s hardly anything left for food. In the evenings I go and draw there, too — but I think that the fellows in the drawing class all work badly and in completely the wrong way. The painting class is better, and as I believe I already told you there are all sorts of people of all ages, at least 5 or so even older than me.
At the moment I’m working on a head of a child.
It would be a great help to me if I could have your letter by Monday.
What I wrote to you about clothes I need is also rather urgent.
So far I’ve already made a few acquaintances there, who had seen the things that I’d taken in in order to be admitted. There are devilish good ones among the studies by past students that are hanging there.
There are things by Neuhuys and Huibers, among others.
But perhaps the best one is by an American, I don’t know the name, though — a nude study of an old man, one would say like a Fortuny or Regnault. I don’t think that I can take a shorter route to progress, and whether I go to the country later or come to a studio in Paris, in any event it’s good for me to see a lot of painting and above all keep working regularly from models, as much as is in any way possible.
Regards — I’m writing to you in haste because I have to go out again.
But still do your utmost best not to keep me waiting, for the work depends on it, and I assure you that it’ll be hard enough for me in any event. With a handshake.