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Vincent van Gogh
Disillusioned with Parisian artists’ café society and the oppressive gloom of the urban winter, Vincent van Gogh left Paris in mid-February 1888 to find rejuvenation in the healthy atmosphere of sun-drenched Arles. When he stepped off the train in the southern city, however, he was confronted by a snowy landscape, the result of a record cold spell. Undaunted, Van Gogh painted Landscape with Snow around February 24, when the snow had mostly melted, just prior to a new inundation.¹ The artist implies the patchy coverage of the snow through daubs of brown paint and by leaving areas of the canvas to the brilliant illumination and feverish colors of the summer harvest paintings Van Gogh made later in the year. Here, instead, he presents the looming, purplish light of an impending snowstorm.
A great admirer of Japanese art, Van Gogh went to Arles hoping to establish an artistic community in an environment commensurate with his Oriental ideal. He wrote to his brother, Theo, from Arles, “But for my part I foresee that other artists will want to see color under a stronger sun, and in a more Japanese clarity of light.”² This painting may have been inspired by the snowy scenes common to the Japanese prints Van Gogh avidly collected, but it also follows conventions of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting in its gradation of color from dark greens and browns framing the foreground to blue sky in the distance, and through the diagonal recession of the road in the snowy landscape. But, unlike Dutch panoramas with their broad expanse of sky, the present work shows Van Gogh concentrating on the terrain between where he stands and the bright red-roofed cottage in the distance. He paints the scene from a perspective immersed in the landscape, on the same plane as the black-hatted man and bowlegged dog trudging along the path.
This canvas and a similar one painted a day or so later, Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background (private collection, London), are less detailed than the more elaborate and descriptive landscapes Van Gogh made a few months later, thus suggesting the artist’s tentative approach to his recently chosen home.
1. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984), pp. 41, 43.
2. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, vol. 3 (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1958), letter no. 538, p. 39.