Vincent van Gogh - Olive Trees against a Slope of a Hill 1889

Olive Trees against a Slope of a Hill 1889
Olive Trees against a Slope of a Hill
Oil on canvas 33.5 x 40.0 cm. Saint-Rémy: November-December, 1889
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 25 June 1889.
My dear Theo,
Enclosed you’ll find an order for colours to replace the one in my previous letter. We’ve had some fine hot days and I’ve got some more canvases on the go, so that there are 12 no. 30 canvases on the stocks. Two studies of cypresses of that difficult shade of bottle green. I’ve worked their foregrounds with thick impastos of white lead which gives firmness to the ground. I believe that Monticellis were very often prepared in this way. One then places other colours on top. But I don’t know if the canvases are strong enough for this work. Speaking of Gauguin, Bernard and the fact that they might well do more consolatory painting, I must, however, add what I’ve anyway often said to Gauguin himself, that one must then not forget that others have already done so. But whatever the case, outside Paris one quickly forgets Paris, by throwing oneself into the heart of the country one changes one’s ideas. But I for one couldn’t forget all those beautiful Barbizon canvases then, and it seems unlikely and anyway unnecessary to do better than that.

What’s Andries Bonger doing, you don’t mention him in your last two or three letters.
As for me, my health is still very good. And work is distracting me.
I have received, from one of our sisters probably, a book by Rod which is not bad but whose title, Le sens de la vie, is really a little pretentious for the contents, it would appear to me.
Above all it’s not very cheering. The author, it seems to me, must have a lot of trouble with his lungs. And consequently a little with everything.
Anyway, he admits that he finds solace in the company of his wife, which is very well observed, but anyway, for my own use he teaches me absolutely nothing whatsoever about the meaning of life. For my part I could find him a little trite and be surprised that in these days he has had a book like that printed and that he’s selling it for 3 francs 50. Anyway, I prefer Alphonse Karr, Souvestre, Droz, because it’s a bit more alive than this. It’s true that I’m perhaps ungrateful, not even appreciating Abbé Constantin and other literary productions that illuminate the sweet reign of the naїve Carnot.
It appears that this book has made a great impression on our good sisters. Wil had moreover spoken to me of it, but the little women and books are two different things. I’ve re-read Voltaire’s Zadig ou la destinée with much pleasure. It’s like Candide. There, at least, the powerful author makes one glimpse that it’s still possible that life has a meaning, ‘although one agreed in conversation that the things of this world did not always go according to the wisest people’s liking’.
As for me, I don’t know what to wish for, first of all working here or elsewhere appears to me more or less the same thing, and since I’m here, staying here the most simple. Only there’s a lack of news to write to you, for the days are all the same, as for ideas I have no others except to think that a wheatfield or a cypress are well worth the effort of looking at them from close at hand, and so on. I have a wheatfield, very yellow and very bright, perhaps the brightest canvas I’ve done. The cypresses still preoccupy me, I’d like to do something with them like the canvases of the sunflowers because it astonishes me that no one has yet done them as I see them.
It’s beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk.
And the green has such a distinguished quality.
It’s the dark patch in a sun-drenched landscape, but it’s one of the most interesting dark notes, the most difficult to hit off exactly that I can imagine.
Now they must be seen here against the blue, in the blue, rather.
To do nature here, as everywhere, one must really be here for a long time.
Thus a Montenard doesn’t give me the true and intimate note, for the light is mysterious, and Monticelli and Delacroix felt that. Then Pissarro used to talk about it very well in the old days, and I’m still a long way from being able to do as he said one should.
Naturally it will please me if you send me the colours, soon if that’s possible, but above all do what you can without it exhausting you too much.
So if you prefer to send me it in two batches, that’s also all right.

I think that of the two canvases of cypresses, the one I’m making the croquis of will be the best. The trees in it are very tall and massive. The foreground very low, brambles and undergrowth. Behind, violet hills, a green and pink sky with a crescent moon. The foreground, above all, is thickly impasted, tufts of bramble with yellow, violet, green highlights. I’ll send you drawings of them with two other drawings that I’ve also done.
That will keep me busy for the next few days. Finding something to do all day is the big thing here.
What a pity that one can’t move the building here. It would be magnificent to hold an exhibition there, all the empty rooms, the big corridors.
I’d very much have liked to see that Rembrandt painting you spoke about in your last letter.
In the old days I saw in Braun’s window a photo after a painting which must be from the fine late period (probably in the Hermitage series), in it there were large figures of angels, it was Abraham’s meal. 5 figures I think. That too was extraordinary. As touching as The pilgrims at Emmaus, for example.
If ever there were a question of giving something to Mr Salles for the trouble he has gone to – later one should give him Rembrandt’s Pilgrims.
Is your health good? Handshake to you and your wife, I hope to send you new drawings next week.
Ever yours,