Vincent van Gogh - The Old Church Tower at Nuenen 1884

The Old Church Tower at Nuenen 1884
The Old Church Tower at Nuenen
Oil on canvas on panel 47.5 x 55.0 cm. Nuenen: May, 1884
Zurich: Foundation E.G. Bührle

« previous picture | Nuenen | next picture »

From Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich:
Vincent van Gogh had gone through a severe crisis when, seeking a place of refuge at the beginning of December 1883, he arrived at his parents’ house at Nuenen in the Dutch province of North Brabant, where he stayed until the end of 1885. He was thirty years old, but young as a painter, for up to that time he had tried his hand in many occupations, but had always failed owing to his uncompromising character. After a training with Anton Mauve and a collaboration with George Hendrik Breitner in The Hague, he determines, at Nuenen, to work on his own and in accordance with his own principles.
In his father’s parsonage, in the ironing room projecting into the garden, he sets up his studio; from here, there is a view over the garden across the fields where the ruined tower of the old church soars up. During this period van Gogh repeatedly painted and sketched this tower, to accent the horizon in landscapes and harvest scenes, or close up, as here, as a symbol of transitoriness and solitude, with the sunken crosses of the old graveyard, the felled tree and the crows circling it. The earthy tones only stress the mournfulness of this place, matched by the grey of the sky.
In May 1885, the tower is pulled down. "The old tower will be pulled down next week! The spire is already down – I am doing a picture of it", Vincent writes to his brother Theo. He does sketches and watercolours of the sale of the salvaged material. He never carries out a plan to paint it again from memory, but he will paint the church in Auvers-sur-Oise in a similar manner, but the colours are more expressive and magnificent.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Paris, Thursday, 2 September 1875.
My dear Theo,
This morning I heard from Pa and from you the news of Uncle Jan’s death. Such things make us say, ‘O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger’ and ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man’.
In the first crate of paintings going to Holland you’ll find a few lithographs and that engraving after Rembrandt. The two lithographs after Bonington will no doubt be to your liking. At the same time I’m sending a couple of photos for Pa of pictures by Jules Breton and Corot; I’ll write ‘for Helvoirt’ on the back.
I’ve never heard of the painter Pynas you write about; I’m eager to see the painting in question. Nor do I know that lithograph after Diaz, ‘A monk’.
Last Sunday I was in the Louvre (on Sunday I often go either there or to the Luxembourg); I wish you could see the Van Ostade, his own family, himself, his wife and, I believe, 8 children, all in black, the wife and girls with white caps and neckerchiefs in a stately old Dutch room with a large fireplace, oak wainscoting and ceiling and whitewashed walls with paintings in black frames. In the corner of the room a large bed with blue curtains and blanket. Rembrandt’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, of which I wrote, has been engraved, Messrs G&Co. will publish the engraving in the autumn. Do you ever visit Borchers? It seems to me that his mother is a distinguished lady. Go out often, if you can, I mean of course to visit Caroline van Stockum, the Carbentuses, Haanebeeks, Borchers &c.; not to Kraft’s or Marda’s, you understand! Or it would have to be because you couldn’t do otherwise, just once or twice can do no harm.
How are things at the gallery? I know all about how it can be sometimes, but anyway, do whatever your hand finds to do.
And I wish you the very best, and write again soon. Ever,
Your loving brother
Herewith a note for Borchers. Regards to everyone at the Rooses’ and to all who ask after me. B. tells me that Weehuizen died, I didn’t know, were you there?