Fritillaries in a Copper Vase
Fritillaries in a Copper Vase
"Last year I painted almost nothing but flowers to accustom myself to a colour other than grey, that’s to say pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange, fine red." Vincent to Wil, Late October, 1887 "For my part — it’s been the case for a long time — I’ve heard so much about you, both from Wil and from Theo — and here in the house there are masses of things that are reminders of you, when I find a nice little jug or a vase or something, then it’s always: Vincent bought that or V. liked that so much scarcely a day passes when we don’t speak of you." Jo van Gogh (Bonger) to Vincent, May 8, 1889
“Last year I painted almost nothing but flowers to accustom myself to a colour other than grey, that’s to say pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange, fine red.” Vincent to sister Wil, Late October, 1887
Fritillaries are bulbs which, like tulips, flower in spring. It is therefore easy to work out what time of year Van Gogh painted this picture. The variety which he represents is the imperial fritillary, which was grown in French and Dutch gardens at the end of the 19th century. It has an orange-red flower, with a long stem from which each bulb produces between three and ten flowers. So to compose this bouquet, Vincent used only one or two bulbs, placing the cut flowers in a copper vase.
When he produced this painting, Vincent was living in Paris and was in close contact with Paul Signac. It is not surprising, therefore, to note that Van Gogh applied some of the principles of Neo-Impressionist painting, of which Signac was one of the major figures: pointillist brushwork is used for the background, and a contrast of complementary colours, blue and orange, dominates the painting. However, the influence of these Neo-Impressionist theories remains limited. The separate brushstrokes were only used for a defined surface, the interplay of complementary colours did not limit Van Gogh in his choice of shades in any way, and finally, by choosing a still life, he was moving away from the themes treated by Seurat and his followers.
The painter Emile Bernard would later recall that Vincent was courting ‘La Segatori’, the Italian owner of the Tambourin caf© on the boulevard de Clichy, and used to give her paintings of flowers, “which would last for ever”. Thanks to painted bouquets like this one, the Tambourin would soon become a veritable artificial garden.
This vase of orange and golden flowers is transformed by Vincent van Gogh into a riotous celebration of colour, texture and light. The joyous application of paint conveys the artist’s elevated mood during the period where he lived with his brother, Theo in Paris.
Acquaintances of van Gogh’s gave him flowers every week to use as models for studies. These spectacular blooms are the flower known as the Imperial Crown or Kaiser’s Crown fritillary, which can be seen in European gardens in late April and May.
The golden flowers stand tall in a copper vase with a few stray specimens balancing the vertical thrust of the arrangement. The shiny patina of the copper vase reflects the colourful flowers and a speckled wall vibrates with a combination of blue, green and yellow hues with flecks of white. Highlights of lavender form a halo around the vase. During this time, van Gogh was experimenting with combinations of opposing colours: in this case, blue and orange; yellow and violet.
Van Gogh’s energetic rendition of a vase of golden blooms in a highly reflective copper vase simulates the heat and light of a glowing sun in front of a starry night sky. This painting foreshadows the moody blues and vibrant golds he uses in a number of other paintings in this exhibition such as Starry night and bedroom at Arles.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From audio tour Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d’Orsay
Musee D’ Orsay
Fritillaires, couronne imperiale dans un vase de cuivre – Imperial Fritillaries in a Copper Vase
The copper vase used in this painting is mentioned by Jo, Theo’s new wife in a letter she wrote in May of 1889 to Vincent:
“For my part — it’s been the case for a long time — I’ve heard so much about you, both from Wil and from Theo — and here in the house there are masses of things that are reminders of you, when I find a nice little jug or a vase or something, then it’s always: Vincent bought that or V. liked that so much— scarcely a day passes when we don’t speak of you.” Jo van Gogh (Bonger) to Vincent, May 8, 1889
Apr-May 1887 Fritillaries in a Copper Vase Painting, Oil on Canvas Paris, France: April – May, 1887 Musee d’Orsay Paris, France, Europe F: 213, JH: 1247