The Sower (Sowewith Setting Sun), 1888

The Sower (Sower with Setting Sun), 1888

The artist that Vincent van Gogh admired most in the world was Jean-François Millet, a French painter of peasant life. One of Millet’s most famous works is The Sower (1850), a large-scaled, vertical image of a striding peasant sowing seeds. Coming to the work three decades later, Vincent identified with the hard-working laborer, and ascribed a religious meaning to the subject, reading in Millet’s figure the idea of sowing God’s word. Throughout his career, he would make numerous sketches and paintings inspired by The Sower and other works by the French artist.

In The Sower (Sower with Setting Sun), Millet’s vertical orientation and naturalistic approach has been replaced by Van Gogh’s Expressionist style and broader sensibility. Under the high horizon and golden sky, the sower is now a more modest part of the composition. The painting is suffused with light; large areas of glowing yellow and orange are juxtaposed and interlaced with shadowy blue-violets. The thick, tactile brushwork suggests the earthy grit and texture of the wheat fields, along with the almost velvet softness of the twilight hour.

Made after Van Gogh’s move to Arles, the expansive landscape seems to embody a celebration of the sun’s eternal radiance and Vincent’s renewal as an artist. At the center of the painting, almost like an icon, the sun watches over the cycles of the day, of the seasons, and of life. Even as it is setting, the incandescent yellow orb remains the hero of the picture. 

Image: Vincent van Gogh, The Sower (Sower with Setting Sun), 1888, Oil on canvas. 25.2 x 31.6 in. (64 x 80.3 cm) Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller/Bridgeman Images.