Wheatfield with Setting Sun – Summer Evening

Wheatfield with Setting Sun – Summer Evening

"I believe I have more chance of succeeding in doing things — even business affairs — that are a bit larger, than if I hold back and do them too small. And that’s precisely why I think I’m going to enlarge the format of my canvases and boldly adopt the square 30 canvas."
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It is June in Provence and Vincent is living above the Restaurant Carrel and painting landscapes by day.  He captures a setting sun over the distant towers and spires of the ancient Roman city of Arles with a foreground of a wheat field which fills more than half of the large canvas.  He is experimenting with color combinations  and capturing the mood of evening falling over the same field which he portrays in several studies during this week in mid June.
He will fight through the fierce seasonal winds of the south of France to complete the setting sun canvas and describes in a letter to his friend and fellow Cormon student from Paris, Emile Bernard.  The mistral, a seasonal chilled wind from the northwest blows 30 miles per hour regularly and gusts at over 60 mph.  Vincent endeavors to paint in these conditions and capture the rural areas just outside of the ever encroaching city and uses a large format canvas in the open air to capture it.
He stands in a section of the wheat field yet to be harvested and looks back on the towers of the ancient city.  He selects a foreground of bright yellow topped with curved and diagonal wheat stalks in ochre and golden brown from bottom right to upper left in the wind.  Small horizontal dashes of harvested wheat beckon the eye to two figures at center and two mounded haytacks in a darker yellow at left.  Buildings are in a range of browns in vertical strokes nearing black, and outlined against a sky of the lightest blues gradating to cobalt at the edges of the frame and the citron yellow of the field echoed in the radiant setting sun.
In Related Items, Vincent also sketches and draws the scene for Bernard and will later send it to Emile as part of a series of drawings in reed pen and ink of some of the settings he has captured in his first few months in Arles.  He also compares his efforts to Cezanne’s harvest canvas, included as a related item as well.  The Compare images allows the viewer to see the relationship between his brushstrokes and his portrayal of various segments of the canvas in reed pen and ink.
Vincent is filled with optimism and sees his recently rented rooms in the yellow house around the corner to be a studio for other artists of the “Petit Boulevard”.  While the house is as yet uninhabitable, he is busy furnishing and painting it in anticipation of their forthcoming arrivals.  He is in the Japan of the south as he sees it and believes that several artists living communally in exchange for canvases his brother can sell is a win-win proposition.  He is also beginning to use a precise and bright range of yellows to portray the brilliant Provence sunlight seemingly amplified by the clear and crisp conditions provided by the frequent mistral winds.
Vincent writes his friend Emile Bernard in June of 1888:
“Here’s another landscape.  Setting sun? Moonrise? Summer evening, at any rate.
Town violet, star yellow, sky blue-green; the wheatfields have all the tones: old gold, copper, green gold, red gold, yellow gold, green, red and yellow bronze. Square no. 30 canvas.


I painted it out in the mistral. My easel was fixed in the ground with iron pegs, a method that I recommend to you. You shove the feet of the easel in and then you push a 50-centimetre-long iron peg in beside them. You tie everything together with ropes; that way you can work in the wind.”

canvas tie down wheatfield setting sun june 1888 arles bernard

Vincent sketches the leg of his easel and the peg and rope system he uses to secure it in the mistral winds.


Vincent To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 19 June 1888.



“I’m very curious to know what Gauguin will do. I hope he’ll be able to come. You’ll tell me it serves no purpose to think about the future, but painting progresses slowly, and in that respect one does need to calculate ahead. 
Gauguin, no more than I, would be rescued if he sold a few canvases. In order to be able to work we must organize our lives as much as possible and need a reasonably firm basis to have our existence assured.  If he and I stay here for a long time we’ll make paintings that are more and more personal, precisely because we’ll have studied things in this part of the world more deeply.
It’s quite hard for me to imagine myself changing direction; having made a start on the south it’s better not to move than — penetrating ever deeper into the region.  I believe I have more chance of succeeding in doing things — even business affairs — that are a bit larger, than if I hold back and do them too small.
And that’s precisely why I think I’m going to enlarge the format of my canvases and boldly adopt the square 30 canvas.  Those cost me 4 francs each here and that isn’t dear, considering the transport….


….What I’ve seen of Cézanne involuntarily comes back to mind, because he has presented the harsh side of Provence so forcefully — as in the harvest we saw at Portier’s.  It has become something quite different from in the spring, but I certainly have no less love for nature that is starting to get scorched as early as now. There’s old gold, bronze, copper in everything now, you might say, and that, with the green blue of the sky heated white-hot, produces a delightful colour which is exceedingly harmonious, withbroken tones à la Delacroix

If Gauguin wished to join us, I believe we’d have taken a step forward. It would establish us squarely as miners of the south, and nobody could find fault with that.
I have to achieve the firmness of colour that I have in that painting that kills the rest. When I think that in the past Portier used to say that the Cézannes that he’d had looked like nothing at all seen on their own, but put next to other canvases they’d beat the colour of the others hollow.  And also that the Cézannes did well in gold, which presupposes a very highly pitched range of colour.  So perhaps, perhaps, I’m on the right track and my eye’s adapting to nature here. Let’s wait a little longer to be sure.”

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


“My dear old Bernard,
Today I’ve just sent you another 9 croquis after painted studies.  In this way you’ll see some of the subjects from this nature that inspires père Cézanne. Because La Crau near Aix is roughly the same thing as the surroundings of Tarascon and La Crau here. The Camargue is even simpler, because often there’s nothing left — nothing but poor soil with tamarisk bushes and the coarse kinds of grass that are to these scanty pastures what halfa grass is to the desert.


Knowing how much you love Cézanne, I thought these croquis of Provence might please you. Not that there are similarities between a drawing by me and by Cézanne; oh, no, no more than between Monticelli and me — but I too love the region that they have loved so much, and for the same reasons of colour, of logical design.”

To Emile Bernard. Arles, between Tuesday, 17 and Friday, 20 July 1888



Painting, Oil on Canvas
Arles: June 11, 1888
Kunstmuseum Winterthur
Winterthur, Switzerland, Europe
F: 465, JH: 1473

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