Wheatfield with Crows, 1890
Contrary to what has been frequently claimed, this turbulent painting was not Van Gogh’s last. It was, however, made during his final weeks. Given the work’s late chronology and menacing tone, connections are often drawn between Wheatfield and Crows and the artist’s mental state and his impending death. What does the painting tell us?
With its high horizon and wide proportions, the landscape appears compressed and electrified by reflective yellow-oranges and dense cobalt blues, as the forceful brushwork explodes in all directions. A murder of crows, scattered across both sky and field, contributes to the tense, oppressive atmosphere, while a strong push-and-pull is exerted between the darkening sky and the earth rising up to meet it. A path vanishing into the center of the picture only heightens the sense of the unknown. Vincent wrote of this picture that he meant for his wheatfields under stormy skies to “express sadness, extreme loneliness.”
While staying in Auvers-sur-Oise, the seemingly boundless wheatfields called to him, and Van Gogh made the long trek almost daily. The location – its colors, its sounds, its smells – fostered an outpouring of creativity during his last two months, providing the impetus for several paintings. Yet, it was also in these same fields that he would choose to take his own life. After shooting himself in the chest, by late evening the wounded artist managed to stagger back to the inn, where people accustomed to the painter’s obsessive daily routine had already grown concerned. Théo was urgently summoned to Auvers from Paris. Though aid was ministered, Vincent could not be saved. He died thirty hours later, on July 29, 1890, with his brother at his bedside.