After weaning himself away from the Impressionism that he practiced until the
mid-1880s, Paul Gauguin began to maintain that "art is abstraction." He shared
this theory with Vincent van Gogh during their brief sojourn together in Arles
in late 1888, urging the Dutch artist to paint not from nature but entirely from his imagination. Gauguin apparently conceived The Arlesiennes (Mistral), one of seventeen paintings he produced in Arles, in part as a pedagogic demonstration piece for van Gogh’s benefit. Like some of the latter’s works, it pictures the Poet’s Garden, a public park in front of the Yellow House, but in a completely different, radically simplified style. We readily make out a path, fountain, bush, fence, and the figures of four women in distinctive local costume, two of whom seem to protect themselves against the mistral, the violent wind that often sweeps the region. But Gauguin arranged these elements with an eye primarily to decorative effect, paying scant attention to conventional notions of perspectival coherence or realistic detail. A sense of enigma pervades the scene, epitomized by the curious yellow cones on the right, which in fact represent packed hay used to protect plants from harsh weather. Some have been tempted to read a face in the bush, but scientific study of the paint layers offers no evidence that the artist intended to create such an effect.
Initially, van Gogh was receptive to the approach exemplified in The Arlesiennes, writing in mid-November to his brother Theo that Gauguin had given him the "courage to imagine things." Ultimately, however, van Gogh required a dialogue between the material and the imaginary. Disagreement over this question exacerbated the tensions between the two men, fostering the crisis that scuttled van Gogh’s dream of a "Studio of the South."
- Shop Online
- Join and Give