Vincent van Gogh: The Olive Trees (1889)
Vincent van Gogh,  Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, Saint Rémy,1889

Finding Beauty in Hard Places

In the aftermath of the 23 December 1888 breakdown that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear, Vincent voluntarily admitted himself to an asylum in Saint-Remy, France. Because he occupied two cells with barred windows, the clinic and its garden became the main subjects of his paintings. He was allowed short supervised walks, during which he painted cypresses and olive trees.(source: wikipedia)

The Influence of Nature

Van Gogh found respite from his illness in interaction with nature.  In 1889, he was suffering symptoms of mental illness, yet the series of olive tree paintings are considered to be among his finest works. (source: wikipedia)

Among the blossoming trees, the olive orchards and fields, van Gogh most often found “profound meaning”,  because he saw in their cycles an analogy to human life. He wrote to Theo that death, happiness and unhappiness are “necessary and useful” and relative, declaring, “Even faced with an illness that breaks me up and frightens me, that belief is unshaken.”[8] 

Vincent van Gogh writes to his brother Theo,

…the “rustle of the olive grove has something very secret in it, and immensely old. It is too beautiful for us to dare to paint it or to be able to imagine it.”[10]


Vincent van Gogh,  Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, Saint Rémy,1889, (detail).

Vincent Describes the Olive Trees

From Vincent’s letters:

The effect of daylight and the sky means there are endless subjects to be found in olive trees. For myself I look for the contrasting effects in the foliage, which changes with the tones of the sky. At times, when the tree bares its pale blossoms and big blue flies, emerald fruit beetles and cicadas in great numbers fly about, everything is immersed in pure blue. Then, as the bronzer foliage takes on more mature tones, the sky is radiant and streaked with green and orange, and then again, further into autumn, the leaves take on violet tones something of the color of a ripe fig, and this violet effect manifests itself most fully with the contrast of the large, whitening sun within its pale halo of light lemon. Sometimes, too, after a shower I’ve seen the whole sky pink and orange, which gave an exquisite value and coloring to the silvery gray-greens. And among all this were women, also pink, who were gathering the fruit.[11]  (source: wikipedia)

Originally quoted on wikipedia from

Van Gogh, V; Suh, H. (2006). Vincent van Gogh: A Self-Portrait in Art and Letters. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 294. ISBN 9781579125868.


Click for enlarged image:

Slideshow best viewed At Sunnyside



Read More

At Sunnyside: Vincent van Gogh: A Tale of Two Paintings

See all works by Vincent van Gogh painted in 1889:

Fascinating article analyzing Vincent van Gogh’s letters to determine the possible nature of this mental illness:

Nolen, W.A., van Meekeren, E., Voskuil, P. et al. New vision on the mental problems of Vincent van Gogh; results from a bottom-up approach using (semi-)structured diagnostic interviews. Int J Bipolar Disord 8, 30 (2020).


The Museum of Modern Art, The Olive Trees, Web. March 22, 2021,

Wikipedia contributors, “Olive Trees (Van Gogh series),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 22, 2021).

Wikipedia contributors. “Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy (Van Gogh series).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Jan. 2021. Web. 22 Mar. 2021.

Books I Want

Van Gogh, V; Suh, H. (2006). Vincent van Gogh: A Self-Portrait in Art and Letters. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 294. ISBN9781579125868.

Thanks for visiting 🙂


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Another one of my favorites by van Gogh. His olive trees are bursting with energy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting, Rosaliene. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ms. Liz says:

    I love this post thank you! and I’ve shared via twitter at

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the share, Ms. Liz! I appreciate your visit. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. roos says:

    He managed to paint the sound you can ‘hear’ it in the curls and spirals.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly, roos! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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