Van Gogh’s Blossoming Trees

Van Gogh’s Blossoming Trees

The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is probably best known for his stormy wheat fields, vivid night skies, numerous self-portraits and… well, for cutting his own ear off, but did you know that he was also one of the most accomplished painters of tree portraiture?

“In all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul, as it were.”
Vincent van Gogh

Unlike for many other painters, trees for van Gogh were far more than just backgrounds or mood setters. Especially towards the end of his career, they became the centrepieces for much of his creative work and the painter ended up developing something of a quasi-religious relationship with trees. For van Gogh, trees were ultimately not objects but individuals who guided his art, just like he once wrote to his brother Theo when discussing his working methods: “If one draws a pollard willow as though it were a living being, which it actually is, then the surroundings follow more or less naturally.”

Among van Gogh’s series of tree portraits are his eighteen paintings of olive trees, numerous flame-like cypresses, and the impressive Mulberry Tree which stood in the garden of the asylum in Southern France where the artist spent most of his last two years.

Van Gogh Mulberry Tree

But perhaps the most beautiful and certainly the most romantic of van Gogh’s arboreal portraits is the series of flowering and blossoming trees which he painted between 1888 and 1890, during the last three springs of his life while struggling with mental highs and lows. For van Gogh, the blossoming flowers in these paintings represented rebirth, awakening and hope, not only universally but probably also personally, as a way forward from a dark place that he at the time often found himself in.

Here are some examples.

Van Gogh Blossom Studies
Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass and Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book, both studies from the spring of 1888.
Van Gogh Pink Peach Tree in Blossom
In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh called Pink Peach Tree in Blossom (March 1888) “probably the best landscape I have done”. The work, also titled Reminiscence of Mauve, was dedicated to the Dutch painter Anton Mauve, of whose death Van Gogh learned just after finishing the painting.
Van Gogh Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom
Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom, from April 1888.
Van Gogh Orchard in Blossom
Orchard in Blossom, from April 1888.
Van Gogh View of Arles
View of Arles (Flowering Orchards), from April 1889.
Van Gogh Chestnut trees in blossom
Chestnut Trees in Blossom, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh's Almond Blossoms
Almond Blossoms was painted in February 1890 to celebrate the birth of the artist’s nephew Vincent who was named after him. Van Gogh died only a few months after completing this painting.