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: Reinstallation at the Institute: Vincent van Gogh's "Olive Trees"


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853-90
Olive Trees, 1889
Oil on canvas
The William Hood Dunwoody FundThis month we open a suite of refurbished and reinstalled galleries on the third floor of the East Wing that feature 19th-century European art, beginning with neoclassical works from around 1800 and continuing through early-20th-century Cubism. The Impressionist paintings and sculpture collection includes the enduring favorite of many visitors, Vincent van Gogh's Olive Trees, featured on the cover. The painting dates from the period when van Gogh was a patient in an asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France. As his health improved in the summer of 1889, the artist obtained permission to paint outside the asylum walls. He worked on some 15 views of the nearby olive orchards, exploring the way different light and sky conditions varied the effects of color and mood.Although van Gogh began by closely observing nature, his intention was to exceed objectivity. By exaggerating and intensifying colors, brush strokes, and patterns, he invested the landscape with human emotions and spiritual states. Specific natural features took on new meaning in the symbolic world of this deeply religious artist.For example, olive trees represent the warmth of the south and the story of Christ in the Garden of Olives, while the sun suggests nature's eternal vitality. Interpreted in terms of the Christian myth of Gethsemane, which van Gogh mentioned in a letter about the olive-grove paintings, the trees' gnarled limbs, paired with the pulsating sun, express anguish and salvation. On a more universal level, van Gogh's intended them to evoke the healing, redemptive power of nature, which he himself experienced and offered in this way to others.
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Source: "Reinstallation at the Institute: Vincent van Gogh's 'Olive Trees,'" <i>Arts</i> 18, no. 9 (September 1995): 14.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009