Vincent painted Wheatfield with a Lark in the fields outside Paris in the suburbs of Asnieres sur Seine in the summer of 1887. He portrayed the grain stalks at their fullest summer height, blowing in the wind with a bird taking flight above the field, against a sky of blue, pink and white.
Vincent does not write about this painting specifically in any correspondence so we cannot know beyond doubt his intent or the exact date of the work. It was probably painted outside of the barrier walls surrounding Paris where countryside and fields still remained in the late 1880’s.
The landscape has three distinct sections, each done with different brushstrokes. The stubbly yellow foreground in short, near vertical strokes with a slight tilt to the right, seem to accentuate the lean of the wheat shafts to the left. The lark is just left of center and flies at a similar angle as the stalks of leaning wheat. The sky of wider horizontal strokes is a deeper blue at top than just above the field of wheat stalks and to the left of the bird Vincent uses more white while to the right, more pink for the clouds. The stalks are of careful dabs and long strokes of shades of green with complimentary red flowers left center. Towards the top of the stalks he adds darker blue dabs of shadow as well as vertical strokes within the stalks.
At this time Vincent is living in Montmartre and walking down the hill to paint around Asnieres and the Seine. He works along the banks of the river with Paul Signac during the summer of 1887 and will begin a lifelong companionship in painting and correspondence with Emile Bernard in the coming weeks. He has seen the works of Signac and Pissarro and the other pointillists or divisionists and is developing his own technique. He is experimenting with color theory and line direction and thickness and their link to human emotions and by the end of summer will give up pointillism as too restrictive.
Vincent is an admirer of the author Michilet and the painter Jules Breton, both of whom may have influenced this canvas. Michelet wrote in L’ Oiseau that the lark was the farmer’s loyal best friend and it’s song was one of hope and it’s behaviors exemplifying brotherly love. Breton created a similar canvas of the benediction of wheat stalks in a field in 1857 which was later bought by the French nation entitled “The Blessing of the Wheat” which is shown as a related image. Also shown is Vincent’s later depiction of a wheat field and birds, but this time it is in Auvers and in the last month of his life with a different feeling altogether.
18 months before, Vincent writes Theo from Antwerp:
Today — Sunday — it was almost a spring day — this morning I went for a long walk on my own, all through the city, in the park, along the boulevards. It was such weather that in the countryside one would probably have heard the lark for the first time. And in short there was something of a resurrection in the atmosphere.
All the same, how depressed the mood is in business and among the people. I don’t think it’s exaggerating when one takes a gloomy view of the various strikes etc. everywhere. They certainly aren’t worthless for later generations, because then the cause will have been won. But for now, of course, it’s gloomy enough for everyone who has to earn his living, all the more so since we can foresee that it will get worse and worse from year to year. The working man against the bourgeois — is as justified as the third estate against the other two a hundred years ago. And the best thing is to keep quiet, because the bourgeois don’t have fate on their side, and we’ll experience more of it. We’re by no means at the end yet. So although it’s spring — how many thousands and thousands are walking around desolate?
I see just as clearly as the greatest optimist the lark ascending in the spring sky.
But I also see the young girl of barely 20, who could have been healthy and has contracted consumption — and perhaps will drown herself before she dies of a disease.
When one is always in respectable company and among reasonably well-to-do citizens, one may perhaps not notice it so much — but when, like me, one has been through very hard times, then it’s impossible to ignore the fact that great hardship is a factor that weighs in the balance.
One may not be able to cure or save, but one can nonetheless sympathize and share in it. Corot, who had serenity if anyone did, who truly felt the spring, wasn’t he as simple as a working man and thus sensible of all the misfortunes of others all his life? And something that struck me in a biography of him — when he was already very old in 70-71, he certainly still looked up into the clear sky, but — at the same time he visited the ambulances where the wounded lay dying. Illusions may fade — but what endures is the sublime — if one were to doubt everything, one wouldn’t doubt fellows like Corot and Millet and Delacroix. And I think that in moments when one doesn’t care about nature any more, one still cares about people.
If you can send me a bit more this month, be it a lot or be it little, but even if it’s only five francs, don’t neglect to do it, and if you can’t, you can’t. I’m really looking forward to hearing your decision as to whether for your part you would approve if I were to come to Paris as early as somewhere around 1 April. In any event, write to me about it soon. Regards, with a handshake.
To Theo. Antwerp, Sunday, 14 February 1886
Painting, Oil on Canvas
Paris: Summer, 1887
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 310, JH: 1274