Couples in the Garden at Saint Pierre

Couples in the Garden at Saint Pierre

"The painting of the garden with lovers is at the Théatre Libre." --- To Theo. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 3 April 1888
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Painting Date
15th of May 1887
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This sunny scene of couples in the Square Saint Pierre in 1887 is one of the largest canvases Vincent painted while he was in Paris and he was pleased with it as a pointillist piece.  Like the related self portrait from the same timeframe, the work is one of a few dozen pointillist paintings and drawings he created in Paris, mostly in the spring and summer of 1887 under the influence of Signac, Seurat and Camille Pissarro.  By Autumn of 1887, Vincent will move away from the small dots and work with shorter and longer dashes and experiment more with curved strokes and line direction during the remaining 6 months of his stay in Paris.

Vincent liked the gardens and parks of Paris and its suburbs and liked to depict the people who walked through them and the feel of the setting.  He places complementary colors and contrasting combinations carefully to create a gentle sunlit afternoon in a public park. He has walked down the hill from Montmartre  with his easel and canvases on his back, and set up in a public park at the base of the hill looking up at what will become the Sacre Cour Cathedral.  When Vincent lives in Montmartre, stones were being quarried and the cathedral was being erected and this park of lined trees offered a quiet retreat from busy “belle epoque” life.  Where the carousel and base of the funicular to the top of the hill in Montmartre sit today, once sat the park of Saint Pierre Vincent captured in the early summer of 1887.

There are couples in intimate poses standing and laying at center with a woman sitting holding a red parasol with her paramour in blue set against a background of greens, one of Vincent’s favorite combinations in the months to come, honoring the Japanese wood block prints he and Theo collect.  The sky, comprising nearly half the canvas, is created in light blue and white (a la Signac’s sky colors from this period) with diagonal strokes from lower left to upper right.  The tree leaves continue the diagonals in greens but fall in varying angles and directions.

Pink and crimson blossoms are set against the leaves with the lighter pinks repeated in the female figure’s dress at center.  A third couple in greens can be seen laying in the grass in the background at center.  The horizontal blues of the men’s clothing are repeated lightly in the path at bottom right.  Vincent is working within the concepts of pointillism and color theory and experimenting with line theory and all of their links to emotion.  His chosen setting is a romantic one and the feel of the work is supported by his color selections and brushstrokes.

Because he and Theo were living together in the Rue Lepic apartment in Montmartre, he and Theo did not record any conversations about this larger canvas but we can surmise they were pleased with it as it was chosen to show at the new Theatre Libre on rue Blanche in early 1888.  The Théatre Libre in Paris, founded by Andre Antoine at 96 rue Blanche, opened on 30 March 1887.  Beginning in January of 1888, Vincent’s “Couples in the garden at Saint Pierre” hung in the rehearsal room alongside Seurat and Signac’s works.


“I saw Tanguy yesterday and he put a canvas I had just done in his window, I’ve done four since you left, and I have a big one on the go. I’m well aware that these big, long canvases are hard to sell, but in time people will see that there’s open air and good cheer in them. Now the whole lot will make a decoration for a dining room or a house in the country.”

To Theo. Paris, between about Saturday, 23 and about Monday, 25 July 1887


“With Tersteeg having written to you ‘send me some Impressionists, but only paintings you yourself think are among the best’, and you having for your part included one of my paintings in this consignment, I’m in the uncomfortable position of convincing Tersteeg I really am an Impressionist of the Petit Boulevard and that I expect to retain that position. Ah well, he’ll have one of my paintings in his own collection…

…As soon as I received the letter I had to spend almost everything on colours and canvases, and I’d be very pleased if it were possible for you to send me something extra in the next few days. The painting of the garden with lovers is at the Théatre Libre.”

To Theo. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 3 April 1888



Painting, Oil on Canvas
Paris, France: Mid May, 1887
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 314, JH: 1258

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