I stopped in my tracks this morning when this painting flashed past on my Facebook feed. I scrolled back. What was that? Van Gogh? Why, today, is this particular Van Gogh making me teary eyed?
It’s the sky, for sure, in Wheat Field with Cypresses, that gets me. I’ll never forget when my son, at age three, fell in love with Van Gogh’s Starry Night. “What do you think those swirls are in the sky?” I asked him. “The wind!” he said, without hesitation. The wind! Of course! It had never occurred to me. I’m a sucker for swirls, and spirals, and circles. But I had never thought about what they might represent in Starry Night. I’m not even sure why that question came out of my mouth. But his answer astounded me.
Wind, for me, is new possibilities, fresh air, change coming, exhilaration. (I mention this, although it sounds cliché, because I know people who DO NOT like wind.) That sky in Wheat Field with Cypresses. The clouds. There’s something about them that strikes a chord. A mythology chord, deep down inside, maybe — they look like billowing gods and goddesses, with pursed lips, faces blowing, or waving the wind into motion.
There are whole pictures in that sky. The Met’s website provides a close-up of part of the sky, which could be a complete painting in itself, in my opinion:
Beautiful. So a little bit about this painting, quickly: Vincent Van Gogh called this his “best” summer painting, painted while he was in an asylum near Saint-Remy, France, where he had admitted himself. He was thirty-six when he painted this, part of a series of paintings of wheat fields, and he died the next year, perhaps a suicide. I like to think about how old artists were when they created works, where they were in their lives. I’m always shocked when I learn again that Van Gogh was only thirty-seven when he died. What a body of work he produced in his short life! And he painted this work, that seems so full of hope and possibility (to me), shortly before his death, probably brought on by deep despair. I just can’t see it in this painting, though. I’ve tried, but joy keeps popping up in those clouds. Maybe, hopefully, he had some moments of joy while he painted it, and that’s what’s coming through. Or maybe it’s once again a personal interpretation having to do with my own experiences. Either way, it’s a beautiful painting. See in it what you will!