Sep 172007

The web offer plenty of information on “Wheatfield with Crows,” and here’s a link to Britannica article on Vincent van Gogh. I’d like to discuss some of my thoughts on this painting, which hangs in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam — and which I had the privilege of seeing while visiting this great European city.

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Wheatfield with Crows, c.1890
Vincent van Gogh

Trying to find a new angle to look at the crows, I kept asking myself simple questions: why are the birds there? What are they doing above the wheat field (besides flying)? Why are they so many?

First, it may be that the artist himself scared the crows, which might have been feeding on the crops. Of course, it is difficult to guess whether this scene is indeed a reflection of what actually happened, or more of an artificial construct, with the crows,  added later. If it was the painter who scared the crows, then he is the scarecrow, a comparison which brings along many sarcastic and ironic meanings, that somehow connect with the man’s life story.

Second, when we hear one or two crows croaking, we can tell that they are few but, when there are three or four , or more, it becomes impossible to discern the voices and make out the number. So, five crows will sound just the same as a twenty birds strong flock would. If seeing can be interchanged with hearing, then seeing five birds would render the same effect as seeing twenty. Hence, it is possible to assume that the number of birds on this painting is more of a guide than an accurate rendering.

The three paths at the foreground form a bird: the middle path shapes the head and the body, the other two are the wings. Taking into account the crows, the allegorical implications of this patterns are infinite, and  can also correlate to Van Gogh’s emotional and psychological state.

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Wheatfields with Crows

Moreover, the paths divide the painting into harmonious segments, a two (field patches) by three (paths) rhythm . This dissection, two thirds, appears again in color distribution: the ominous blue fills one third of the canvas, the warm yellow and green two thirds. This recurrence contributes to harmony, and unity.

From my purely subjective point of view, the painting instills a sense of harmony and inner calm despite strong color contrasts. If I were to guess on what was the emotional state of the artist while working on this canvas, I would bring up  acceptance and resignation besides emotional torment and turmoil, with the former  taking the upper hand. Paradoxically, this is a serene painting, where compositional and rhythmic effects contribute to the sense of peace no less than light and color itself.

*this article has been edited at a later date

  4 Responses to “Vincent van Gogh: Wheatfield with Crows”

  1. Did you notice the way the eye follows the stalks of wheat in the direction of the wind, up and to the left, to the corner where the flock of crows flies off to?
    The feeling is as if the viewer (or painter) is souring upward into the night, chasing the birds, perhaps, or joining them… Soaring upward allows him to escape the dilemma of choosing a path. He can now fly directly across the field…
    You were right to notice crows are solitary birds, and very wise ones. They flock up when there are many killings. They flock up in places of mass murder. What would following them or chasing them off mean?

  2. I guess it would mean either facilitating or fighting off/preventing the end? Acceptance vs. revolt? Being the victimizer or the victim?

    Thank you for the comment! :) I’ve written this review a few years ago, and find the article too meandering now… I should definitely edit it. Still, I like the idea of it being “bright” — I think interpretations that describe it as gloomy and revealing of the artist’s impending collapse don’t do it justice.
    The confidence of the brush, the way the dark blue and yellow colors lock into each other — they reveal incredible poise and control — how they can be the outcome of a sick soul? I see powerful, even muscular mastership of the composition and the palette, and an incredibly uplifting image all in all. I see a union of the artist’s soul with the depicted, a union so strong that viewers need to “fight” for a place in that local yet abstract harmony. A true, undeniable masterpiece…

  3. This is one of my favorite paintings of all time. I think it is a painting foreshadowing van goghs death. It is a painting of what would happen around him when he died… His suicide plan was to sit in the middle of a sunflower field and shoot himself–the bang would scare the crows and they would fly away (hence the place of them in the painting) and the road represents the long journey of life and the weather represents turmoil/choas/disturbance. The paintings perspective is of someone looking at the field from a distance while van gogh shot himself. It definately is a master piece. I love your analysis of it, very in depth :)

  4. I came across this painting today on an MBA module in strategic management of all things – within the context of giving it a name (for those of us who didn’t know it) prior to knowing its status as the (alleged) last painting of van Gogh. However, I was interested to note that whilst the colours are those typically associated with the painting’s features (yellow wheat, black crows etc.) the tracks of the middle path are green. Surely any tracks, made by a cart or farm vehicle of some sort I presume, would be brown, especially since the middle of the track is brown. Why, or how, could they be green? Given the amount of analysis and speculation devoted with this work, I was surprised to find no reference (so far) to this point online. Any thoughts? I will refrain from conveying any of my own ill-informed speculations.

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