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Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890). Cypresses, 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 3/4" x 29 1/8" (93.5 x 74 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1949.49.30.

The cypress tree, which van Gogh found "as beautiful of line and proportion as an Egyptian obelisk," both captivated and challenged the artist: "It is a splash of black in a sunny landscape, but it is one of the most interesting black notes, and the most difficult to hit off that I can imagine." Frequently planted near cemeteries, cypress trees were associated with death and immortality, a detail which preoccupied van Gogh. This canvas was painted in late June 1889, shortly after van Gogh began his year-long confinement at the asylum in Saint-Remy (May 1889-May 1890).

The rich and multicolored impasto of this painting makes it seem very much alive. The many layers of oil paint glisten as if they were just applied. The direction and weight of the brushstrokes both reveal the natural forms of the trees and landscape as well as give a general sense of movement and growth. Even the sky is brimming with nervous energy radiating from curlicues of cloud wisps, twirling crescent moons, and reflections of light from an unseen sun.

Activity: Movement

As with still-life paintings, landscape compositions do not usually depict movement as a primary element. Why do you think Van Gogh filled his cypress landscape with such a strong sense of motion? Is there anything in the composition that seems to stand still? Imagine this composition as a black-and-white photograph. How would your response to the composition change?

Timeline of Art History

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Title Annotation:GalleryCard Foundations
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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