Vegetable Gardens in Montmartre: La Butte Montmartre

Vegetable Gardens in Montmartre: La Butte Montmartre

"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."
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Painting Date
15th of June 1887
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It is late June in 1887 when Vincent sets his easel below one of the few remaining windmills of Montmartre and paints the scene before him and up to the hilltop.  A darkening sky in thick gray and blue dashes backdrops the outlines of the Moulin Blute fin with another windmill’s sails at left center of the horizon.

In the foreground, using the angles of the fences to create depth, Vincent invites us up a path of yellows and earthen reds. He has lived in Paris for over a year and his former palette of northern harmonious browns has grown to include more color.  The windmill he paints no longer functions to grind grain, rather, it is visited for its majestic observation deck looking south toward Ile de la Cite and central Paris.

Vincent and Theo are living in Montmartre on Rue Lepic, just around the mill from where Vincent sets his easel. He creates this canvas from the view looking up to the mountaintop with the vegetable gardens used by Paris restaurants clustered before him.  Now in his late 30’s, Vincent is experimenting with brushstroke variation and the placement of complimentary colors seeking to heighten the effect of both simultaneously.

Vincent is pleased with this larger canvas and its companion piece looking back down the hill towards the suburbs of Clichy and Asnieres.  He and Theo decide to submit them and one other Paris painting for exhibition in the 1888 Salon des Independants.  The salons were large halls with walls covered in canvases and were where modern artists had their best chance of reaching a large and wealthy audience and their work might be purchased.

Vincent and his contemporaries were generally excluded from these higher end salons and in order to show new styles and theories in art, alternative and non-judged salons were held where Vincent, Seraut and Signac, Lautrec and Anquetin and the Pissarros could show their latest canvases, controversial as they were at the time.

Related items include a photograph and a canvas from the year before, both taken from a similar view as Vincent’s large canvas work in early summer of 1887.  There are also the other two paintings Vincent and Theo selected for the 1888 salon: First, the intended companion canvas of the vegetable gardens on the north side of the butte, Second, a stack of novels in bright colors and short brushstrokes on a table beside a rose in a vase. Vincent felt these three canvases nicely represented his work and learnings as an artist in Paris and his evolving methods to evoke emotional response in his viewing audience.



Vincent writes his brother Theo:


“My dear friend,
I thank you for your letter and for what it contained.  I feel sad that even if successful, painting won’t bring in what it costs.
I was touched by what you wrote about home – ‘they’re doing quite well, but it’s sad to see them nevertheless’. But a dozen years ago or so one would have sworn that the family would continue to prosper after all, and that things would work out well. It would please our mother greatly if your marriage came off, and for your health and business affairs you shouldn’t remain single anyway.
Myself — I feel I’m losing the desire for marriage and children, and at times I’m quite melancholy to be like that at 35 when I ought to feel quite differently. And sometimes I blame this damned painting. It was Richepin who said somewhere


‘the love of art makes us lose real love.’


I find that terribly true, but on the other hand real love puts you right off art.  And sometimes I already feel old and broken, but still sufficiently in love to stop me being enthusiastic about painting.
To succeed you have to have ambition, and ambition seems absurd to me. I don’t know what will come of it. Most of all, I’d like to be less of a burden to you — and that’s not impossible from now on. Because I hope to make progress in such a way that you’ll be able to show what I’m doing, with confidence, without compromising yourself.
And then I’m going to retreat to somewhere in the south so as not to see so many painters who repel me as men.  You can be sure of one thing, and that’s that I won’t try to do any more work for the Tambourin. I think it’s going to change hands, too, and of course I’m not against that.
As far as Miss Segatori is concerned, that’s another matter altogether, I still feel affection for her and I hope she still feels some for me.
But now she’s in an awkward position, she’s neither free nor mistress in her own house, and most of all, she’s sick and ill. Although I wouldn’t say so in public — I’m personally convinced she’s had an abortion (unless of course she had a miscarriage) — whatever the case, in her situation I wouldn’t blame her.
In two months she’ll be better, I hope, and then perhaps she’ll be grateful that I didn’t bother her.  Mind you, if she were to refuse in good health and in cold blood to give me back what’s mine, or did me any kind of harm, I wouldn’t be easy on her — but that won’t be necessary.
But I know her well enough still to trust her.  

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



Vincent writes his brother just after arriving in Arles in the south of France:


“I’ve had a letter here from Gauguin, who says he’s been ill in bed for a fortnight. That he’s broke, since he’s had to pay off some pressing debts. That he’d like to know if you’ve sold anything for him but that he can’t write to you for fear of bothering you. That he’s under so much pressure to earn a little money he’d be determined to reduce the price of his paintings still further.

I can do nothing about this business from my end except write to Russell, which I’ll do this very day. And after all, we’ve already tried to get Tersteeg to buy one. But what can we do, he must really be hard up. I’m sending you a few lines for him in case you have something to tell him, but open letters if any come for me, because you’ll know sooner what’s in them if you do that and that will save me the trouble of telling you what’s in them. This goes once and for all.
Would you risk buying the seascape from him for the firm? If that were possible he would be out of difficulties for the time being.
Now it’s very good that you’ve taken in young Koning,I’m so glad you won’t be living alone in your apartment. In Paris one is always suffering, like a cab-horse, and if on top of that you have to live alone in your stable it would be too much.
About the Independents’ exhibition, do whatever you see fit.  What would you say to showing the two large landscapes of the Butte Montmartre there? It’s all much the same to me, I’m inclined to place slightly more hopes in this year’s work.
There’s a hard frost here, and out in the country there’s still snow — I have a study of a whitened landscape with the town in the background. And then 2 little studies of a branch of an almond tree that’s already in flower despite everything.
Enough for today, I’m writing a note to Koning.  I’m really very pleased that you’ve written to Tersteeg, and I have hopes that this will be the renewal of your relations in Holland.
With a handshake to you and to any pals you may meet.
Yours truly,

To Theo. Arles, on or about Friday, 2 March 1888


My dear Theo,
I’m writing you another line because I haven’t yet received your letter. But I presume you’ll have said to yourself that I would probably be at Saintes-Maries.
As the rent for the house and the painting of the doors and windows and the purchase of canvases have all come together and drained me dry, you’ll do me a very great service by sending me some money a few days early.
I’m working on a landscape with wheatfields which I believe is no worse than the white orchard, for example.  It’s of the same kind as the two Butte Montmartre landscapes that were in the Independents, but I think it’s more substantial and that it has a little more style.

To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 12 or Wednesday, 13 June 1888



Painting, Oil on Canvas
Paris: June – July , 1887 (96 x 120 cm, size 60 Figure)
Stedelijk Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 350, JH: 1245

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