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Memory of the Garden at Etten
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While living in the Yellow House with his then good friend, Paul Gauguin, van Gogh produced several works.

Many of these were either influenced in some way by Gauguin or have a Gauguin painting twin. For Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles), Gauguin encouraged his pal to paint from memory, hence the title. Gauguin’s painting Arlésiennes was either painted at the same time or as a response. 

If you’re familiar with van Gogh’s personal life, you likely know that things did not go so well when van Gogh and Gauguin moved in together. Sometimes friends just don’t make good roommates. Sometimes a rivalry ensues and an ear gets cut off. We've all been there. They had distinctive styles and different approaches that didn’t quite mesh. This painting stands out from van Gogh’s other works because he gave Gauguin’s method a try, initially planning to hang the painting in his bedroom before he ultimately decided he didn’t like it or Gauguin’s approach.

Van Gogh’s summer in Etten held a lot of memories beyond his impression of the gardens, specifically the woman who usually sat beside him while he painted landscapes. Her name was Kee, a widow and a cousin of van Gogh. She and her young son would join him while he worked and van Gogh fell hard for her. She didn’t feel the same, which is putting it mildly. He tried to kiss her and she definitively told him “Never, no, never.” But heartbroken Van Gogh was passionate, a tad obsessive, and really stubborn. 

He wrote her several love letters and his unrequited affection for her became both a family scandal and an embarrassment. Van Gogh begged his brother Theo for the funds to go visit her and, though he didn’t encourage his pursuit, he gave him the money, likely hoping it would help him find closure and move on. But Van Gogh never saw Kee again. He went to the home she was staying at several times and was told each time that she was not there. Her clear and continued avoidance was too blatant to ignore, and van Gogh did give up and move on.

Van Gogh wrote to his sister Willemina of Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles) saying, “Let’s suppose that these two women walking are you and our mother.” So, almost certainly the two figures depicted were meant to only portray his mother and sister. Though he discussed the bright colors of the women’s shawls as being the aspect most representative of his mother, rather than the physical appearance. But, his biographer Marc Edo Tralbaut argued that, at least subconsciously, one of the figures represents Kee.

Sources

Sources

  1. Gogh, Vincent Van. “720 (725, W9): To Willemien Van Gogh. Arles, on or about Monday, 12 November 1888. - Vincent Van Gogh Letters.” Van Gogh Letters. Van Gogh Museum. Accessed February 4, 2020. http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let720/letter.html.
  2. Groom, Gloria, and Michael Hoyle. Van Gogh’s Bedrooms. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2016.
  3. Mutchler, B. Ione. The Passions of Vincent Van Gogh: an Interpretive Biographical Novel. Xlibris LLC, 2014.
  4. Pickvance, Ronald. Van Gogh in Arles. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018.
  5. Silverman, Debora. Van Gogh and Gauguin: the Search for Sacred Art. United States: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2004.
  6. Tralbaut, Marc Edo. Vincent Van Gogh. Viking Press, 1969.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles)

Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles) is an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh. It was executed in Arles around November 1888 and is in the collection of the Hermitage Museum. It was intended as decoration for his bedroom at the Yellow House.

Background

The "Garden at Etten" refers to the parsonage garden at Etten (now Etten-Leur) where Vincent's father, pastor Theodorus van Gogh, had been called in 1875. Vincent spent periods of time there, notably from Easter to Christmas 1881 when he returned to join his brother Theo, an art dealer, determined to become an artist. This period at Etten represents the beginning proper of Vincent's ten-year career as an artist. He had drawn since boyhood, and the previous year had enrolled in a beginners' class in Brussels where he met the painter Anthon van Rappard, but he now began to draw in earnest. He rapidly developed an accomplished technique in landscape drawing but remained rather more uncertain in his figure drawing, which he practised assiduously with the aid of Charles Bargue's drawing course. Rappard made a twelve-day visit during this time, and they sketched together in the marshes and heaths round Etten. Vincent also visited his cousin-in-law Anton Mauve in The Hague, a celebrated artist of the time, who had expressed an interest in his drawings and who encouraged him further. At this time Vincent had not progressed as far as painting, though he did wash some of his drawings with watercolor. At the end of the year he made an extended visit to Mauve, who introduced him to painting. He returned to Etten with the intention of setting up a studio there.

That summer Vincent became infatuated with his recently widowed cousin Kee Vos-Stricker, daughter of the theologian Johannes Stricker, who had been invited to stay over the summer with her eight-year-old son Jan. Vincent had last visited her in Amsterdam some three years before while her husband was still alive (there is a family photo extant dating from 1872 thought to show Vincent side by side with Kee), but now her new situation stirred his tender feelings and romantic disposition. They took pleasant walks together and within the fortnight Vincent proposed marriage. She famously rebuffed him with a curt "No, at no time, never", abruptly taking her leave for Amsterdam and never dealing with him again. Vincent's obsessive attempts to press his suit eventually became a matter of family scandal, culminating in a bitter quarrel with his father on Christmas Day and his leaving the family home to set up his proposed studio in The Hague instead.

Vincent subsequently painted in Drenthe, Nuenen (his last family home), and Antwerp, before joining Theo in Paris in 1886, Finally he set up a studio in 1888 at the Yellow House in Arles, where he was joined by Paul Gauguin, with the intention of forming an artists' commune.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles).