Vincent van Gogh - The Plough and the Harrow after Jean-Francois Millet 1890

The Plough and the Harrow after Jean-Francois Millet 1890
The Plough and the Harrow after Jean-Francois Millet
Oil on canvas 72.0 x 92.0 cm. Saint-Rémy: January, 1890
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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Winter, The Plain of Chailly Jean-Francois Millet
Winter, The Plain of Chailly
1862–1866 Jean-Francois Millet

Jean-François Millet was a master to whose works Vincent van Gogh constantly returned, reflecting on them, studying and copying them. Millet's The Four Hours of the Day was constantly in Van Gogh's sight. In 1875, describing the room he had rented in Montmartre, he lists this series among the engravings he has chosen to decorate it. In November 1889 - January 1890, in the asylum in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh executed the entire series of paintings from The Four Hours of the Day on the largest canvases he had available. In a letter to his brother the artist wrote: "Working on Millet's drawings and wood engravings cannot be considered copying in the strict sense of the word. It is rather translation into another language, the language of paints, of impressions created by the black-and-white light and shadow."

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday, 28 September 1889.
My dear Theo,
I’m dropping you another line to explain that 3 studies are missing from the consignment of canvases (which you will have already), since by removing them the roll cost 3.50 francs less for carriage. So I’ll send them next opportunity – or rather they’re leaving today with other canvases – the following.
Wheatfield and cypresses
The ivy
Study of cypresses
The olive trees
then also the three studies mentioned below, PoppiesNight effectMoonrise. Soon I’m sending you a few smaller canvases with the 4 or 5 studies I wanted to give to Mother and our sister. These studies are drying at the moment. It’s no. 10 and no. 12 canvases, reductions of the Wheatfield and cypresses, Olive trees, Reaper and Bedroom and a little portrait of me.
This will give them a good start, and I think this will give both you and me some pleasure to ensure that our sister or sisters have a small collection of paintings. I’ll do reductions of the best canvases with them in mind, in this way I also wanted them to have the red and green vineyard, the pink chestnut trees, the night effect that you exhibited. You’ll see that I’m gaining a little patience, and that persevering will be a result of my illness. I feel more detached from many preoccupations.
You’ll send me one day, when it suits you, the red vineyard and other canvases with that aim when you’ve seen the 5 that I’ve done.

Now for that reaper – at first I feared that the large format repetition that I’m sending you wasn’t bad – but afterwards, when the days of mistral and rain came, I preferred the canvas done from life, which appeared a little odd to me. But no, when the weather’s cold and sad, it’s precisely that one that makes me remember once again that summer furnace over the white-hot wheat, so the exaggeration isn’t as much as all that.
Père Peyron came back and chatted with me about seeing you, and said that no doubt your letter would tell me all the details of the conversation he’d had with you. That in any case the upshot was that it would be wise to go on waiting here. Which, also being my opinion, goes without saying.
Nevertheless, if an attack recurs I still want to try a change of climate, and even to return to the north as a stopgap.
Mr Peyron said that you looked as if you were well, which gives me pleasure.
I’ve received the 10 tubes of white, but as soon as possible I’ll need another dozen zinc white
2 large tubes Cobalt
1 ,, ,,
Emerald 1 ,, ,,
Chrome 1
1 small tube carmine
For there are fine autumnal effects to do.
At present I feel completely normal and no longer remember those bad days at all.
With work and very regular food this will probably last for quite a long time, so-so, and I’ll also do my work all the same without it appearing. For at the end of the month you’ll receive another dozen studies.
Am I mistaken, but it seems to me that your letter is very delayed this time?
Unfortunately there are no vineyards here, otherwise I’d promised myself to do nothing else this autumn. There are some, but for that I would have had to go and stay in another village.
On the other hand the olive trees are very characteristic, and I’m struggling to capture that. It’s silver, sometimes more blue, sometimes greenish, bronzed, whitening on ground that is yellow, pink, purplish or orangeish to dull red ochre.
But very difficult, very difficult. But that suits me and attracts me to work fully in gold or silver. And one day perhaps I’ll do a personal impression of it, the way the sunflowers are for yellows. If only I’d had some of them this autumn. But this half-freedom often prevents one from doing what one nevertheless feels able to do. Patience, however, you’ll tell me, and it’s indeed necessary.
Give my warm regards to Jo, look after yourself, and write soon please.
Ever yours,