One Eared Vase with Oleanders and Books

One Eared Vase with Oleanders and Books

"The oleander – ah – it speaks of love and it’s as beautiful as Puvis de Chavannes’ Lesbos, where there were women beside the sea."
Painting Date
30th of August 1888
Detailed Image Links

Vincent has just completed four canvases of sunflowers the week before after lamenting his recent lack of flowers as subjects when he turns to a majolica mug he uses as a vase.  One of the books on the table is Emile Zola’s “La Joie de Vivre” and the related items are other canvases of flowers arranged in the same majolica jug.  Vincent had placed Zola’s bohemian masterpiece on a table in a painting before along with his father’s open Bible and dedicated it to him upon his passing. Theodorus or “Dorus” was a strict Dutch Reformed Church pastor and patriarch of the Van Gogh family.  He and Vincent struggled mightily through most of their relationship with only a few remembered times where strife was not present.   Vincent will paint Zinnias and another arrangement of Oleanders in the final weeks of August, 1888 in Arles, using the same one-eared vase to hold them.


In August of 1888, the brothers have also recently received news of the passing of their Uncle ‘Cent, a very successful art dealer.   In his will he has left enough for Theo, sisters Anna and Will and their aging mother, Anna Carbentus, to live without money worries for life, but has specifically excluded Vincent from receiving any portion of his estate.  Vincent created some of his most endearing canvases after being dealt this emotional blow from his father’s brother, dispensing his rage against his nephew from beyond the grave (probably for Vincent’s relationship with a prostitute in the Hague and a child she had named Willem – Vincent and Uncle ‘Cent’s shared middle name).  Gauguin has still not accepted Theo’s offer to live and work with Vincent in Arles and the brothers are edgy about this.  In mid-September, it will be confirmed and by October Gauguin will be painting with Vincent and living in the Yellow House.  But in August, the brothers are still on pins and needles as they try to make their vision of an artist colony in Arles a reality.


In Oleanders and Books, Vincent chooses a horizontal canvas with a background of crosshatched yellow-green to bring attention to the wide spread of the arrangement, evoking the feel of a sprawling landscape.  The leaves in shades of green weave in long crossing arcs to fine points just leaving the canvas at center right and top.  The blossoms of  reds, pinks and whites against the rich greens of the leaves creates a vibrant effect, with each color enhancing the other.  The leaves being outlined in black and the clipped view of the table at right and the books at left reveal Vincent’s honoring of Japanese woodblock print artists and their cloisson-esque style.


Vincent chooses another set of complimentary colors in the yellow of the books and the lavender-violet of the shadow on the table-top.  The red border of the table-top repeats the reds of the blossoms and the yellow stripe of the jug is also in the background and books.  He will send the painting to Theo in Spring of the following year and it will exchange hands over a dozen times before arriving at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, thanks to its 1962 gifting by the Loebs (the boathouse in Central Park was created by this same early New York family).




Vincent writes to Theo in mid-August of 1888…


“It is indeed, after so much coldness, rather kind of our uncle to have left you a legacy, but it’s hard for me to get it into my head that he and C.M. haven’t condemned you a little to forced labour in perpetuity by refusing to provide for you by lending you the capital needed to set up on your own. That remains a serious error on their part. But I don’t labour the point.


One more reason to try to do the most possible in art if we’ll always be in difficulties, relatively speaking, as far as money goes. Well, my dear brother, at that moment you were ready, for your part, to set yourself up; therefore you have every right to feel that you’ve done your duty, for your part. With their help, you had this business in the Impressionists, taken as a whole. Without their help, the business won’t be done, or will be done in a different way. You may not have earned anything, but you’ve deserved it, now if the Dutch are always mixing up these two such different questions, having only their word ‘verdienen’ in both cases, too bad for them!


I’ll write another short line to Mourier, you’ll read it. And I shake your hand firmly.”


Ever yours,




To Theo. Arles, on or about Sunday, 12 August 1888





“I fear that I won’t have a very fine female model. She had promised, then as it appears, she earned a few sous with some riotous living and has better things to do. She was extraordinary; her expression was like that of Delacroix. And a strange, primitive bearing. I take things with patience, for want of seeing other ways of enduring them, but it’s annoying, this constant aggravation with models.


I hope to do a study of oleanders in the next few days.  If we painted smoothly like Bouguereau people wouldn’t be ashamed to let themselves be painted, but I believe it’s made me lose models, that people found that it was ‘badly done’, it was only pictures full of painting that I was doing. So the good whores are afraid of being compromised, and that people will laugh at their portraits. But it’s enough to make you almost lose heart when you feel that you could do things if people had more good will. I can’t resign myself to saying, ‘grapes are sour’; I can’t get over the fact that I don’t have more models. Well, we must be patient and look for others.”


To Theo. Arles, on or about Monday, 13 August 1888




“I have a bouquet on the go as well, and also a still life of a pair of old shoes.”

To Theo. Arles, Wednesday, 29 or Thursday, 30 August 1888




Painting, Oil on Canvas – 60 x 73 Size 20 Figure
Arles: August 3o, 1888
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York, United States of America, North America
F: 593, JH: 1566

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