In early November of 1889, Vincent finds a view on a boulevard in St. Remy with large plane trees lining it and workmen making repairs on the road they border under Autumn skies. He will paint it on the spot in the first week of December and then create this second, more refined work back in his studio/cell in the Saint Paul de Mausole asylum in Saint Remy de Provence.
He has lived in confinement at the hospital for nearly 8 months and will soon suffer another attack of illness about two weeks after completing the two renditions of The Road Menders. The related images beneath the painting are the first rendition of the road menders and a photograph of the avenue Vincent depicted.
This second work, with more prominent yellows, is currently housed at the Philips Collection in Washington DC and Vincent changes a few details when he has more time to contemplate his brushstrokes back at the asylum in the middle weeks of December. By using the slide compare, the viewer sees how he opens shutters which were closed in the first rendition at middle left and raises the height of the gas lamp.
He completes the figures at center which he had only outlined in the first rendition and introduces a crimson red in the basket of the figure bottom left and the curtains in the lower window middle left. The cool blues of the shade in the earlier piece turn to greens with more elaborate crosshatching on the massive tree trunks. The yellows are applied in volume in this second piece as the autumn sun lights the leaves, building fronts and street itself. Perhaps in honor of his peasant depicting hero, Millet, he adds a worker digging with a spade to the duo repairing the road at right center.
The painting’s earlier version was sent to Theo in time to be entered into the Salon in Paris in 1890, but Vincent kept this more finished piece in St. Remy until May before sending it to Theo.
“In spite of the cold I’m continuing to work outside up to now, and I think that it’s good for me and for the work.
The last study I did is a view of the village – where people were at work – under enormous plane trees – repairing the pavements. So there are piles of sand, stones and the gigantic tree-trunks – the yellowing foliage, and here and there glimpses of a house-front and little figures. I often think of you and Jo, but with a feeling as if there was an enormous distance from here to Paris and as if it were years since I saw you. I hope that your health is good, for myself I can’t complain, I feel absolutely normal, so to speak, but without ideas for the future, and truly I don’t know what it’s going to be, and perhaps I’m avoiding going into this question deeply, sensing that I can do nothing about it.
Ever Yours, Vincent”
To Theo. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday, 7 December 1889
“The tall plane trees, the main street or boulevard of St-Rémy, study from nature. I have a repetition of it here which is perhaps more finished….
…..Please don’t look at them without putting them on stretching frames and framing them in white. That’s to say, you’ll remove the nails from other canvases and mount these on the stretching frames, one by one if you like, to appreciate the effect. For the colourings absolutely need to be set off by the white frame to judge the ensemble.”
To Theo. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Friday, 3 January 1890
From the Van Gogh Letters:
The sixth exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants was held in the Pavillon de la Ville de Paris on the Champs-Elysées from 20 March to 27 April 1890. Van Gogh exhibited ten paintings. See exhib. cat. Paris 1890-2, p. 41, cat. nos. 832-841. Eight of these can be identified on the basis of the titles in the catalogue. ‘Le cyprès’ must be Cypresses
(F 613 / JH 1746
), considering that Van Gogh intended to give his second painting of this subject, F 620 / JH 1748
, to Aurier (see letter 853). ‘Rue à Saint-Rémy’ is Road menders (‘The tall plane trees’)
(F 657 / JH 1860
); the other version, F 658 / JH 1861
, was still with Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy (see letter 834). ‘Les Alpines’ is Ravine
(F 662 / JH 1804
); the second version, F 661 / JH 1871
, was still with Van Gogh (see letter 836). ‘Promenade à Arles’ is most likely Avenue of chestnut trees in blossom
(F 517 / JH 1689
), which Theo thought very beautiful and referred to by the same title in letter 793 (as well as in the list recorded below). ‘Mûrier en automne’ is Mulberry tree
(F 637 / JH 1796
). ‘Sous bois’ is Trees with ivy in the garden of the asylum
(F 609 / JH 1693
), and ‘Lever de soleil en Provence’ is Wheatfield at sunrise
(F 737 / JH 1862
); the last two canvases were being shown at that time at the exhibition of Les Vingt in Brussels. ‘Les Tournesols’ is either Sunflowers in a vase
(F 454 / JH 1562
) or Sunflowers in a vase
(F 456 / JH 1561
), which were also shown at the exhibition of Les Vingt.
The other two canvases, ‘Paysage montagneux en Provence’ and ‘Verger d’oliviers en Provence’ can also be identified with certainty, thanks to a list that Theo made on the back of a letter from Dr Peyron
dated 24 February 1890 (see FR b1062; Hulsker 1971, pp. 42-43). In addition to the above-mentioned titles, which were listed in the catalogue in the order given by Theo, he wrote down ‘Champs de blé (avec les nuages tourmenté)’ (Wheatfields (with billowy clouds)) and ‘Oliviers (soleil couchant)’ (Olive trees (setting sun)). These descriptive titles tell us that the paintings in question were Wheatfield after a storm
(F 611 / JH 1723
) and Olive grove
(F 586 / JH 1854
), which Vincent himself described as ‘Olive trees. Orange and green sunset sky’ (see letter 834).
Painting, Oil on Canvas – 73.5 x 92.5 cm Size 30 Figure
Saint-Rémy: December, 1889
The Phillips Collection
Washington D.C., United States of America, North America
F: 658, JH: 1861