Vincent van Gogh on Painting Trees

A collection of quotes from Vincent van Gogh on the challenges of painting trees.

”It had struck me how firmly the saplings were rooted in the ground – I started on them with the brush, but because the ground was already impasted, brush-strokes simply vanished into it. Then I squeezed the roots and trunks in from the tube and modelled them a little with the brush.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, 3 September 1882

”Yesterday evening I was working on a slightly rising woodland slope covered with dry and mouldering beech leaves. The ground was light and dark reddish brown, emphasized by the weaker and stronger shadows of trees casting half-obliterated stripes across it. The problem, and I found it a very difficult one, was to get the depth of colour, the enormous power and solidity of that ground — and yet it was only while painting it that I noticed how much light there was still in the dusk — to retain the light as well as the glow, and depth of that rich colour, for there is no carpet imaginable as splendid as that deep brownish-red in the glow of an autumn evening sun, however toned down by the trees.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, 3 September 1882

”Corot drew and modelled every tree trunk with the same devotion and love as if it were a figure.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.September 1881

”If one draws a pollard willow as if it were a living being, which after all is what it really is, then the surroundings follow almost by themselves, provided only that one has focused all one’s attention on that particular tree and not rested until there was some life in it.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.15 October 1881

”… in all nature, for instance in trees, I see expression and soul… ”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, 5 November 1882

”The very broad-fronted houses here [in Zweeloo] are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green, in the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-greys, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps — as if they had been blown there, loose and with the light filtering through them — from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, 2 November 1883

”I’m in a fever of work since the trees are in blossom and I want to do a Provençal orchard full of enormous brightness. ”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.2 April 1888

”This morning I worked on an orchard of plum trees in bloom; all at once a fierce wind sprang up, an effect I had seen nowhere else but here, and returned at intervals. The sun shone in between, and all the little white flowers sparkled. … I went on painting at the risk and peril of seeing the whole show on the ground at any moment — it’s a white effect with a good deal of yellow in it, and blue and lilac, the sky white and blue.”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.11 April 1888

”I am working on nine orchards: one white; one pink, almost red; one white-blue; one grayish pink; one green and pink. Yesterday I overdid one of a cherry tree against a blue sky; the young leaf shoots were orange and gold, the clusters of flowers white, and that against the green-blue of the sky was wonderfully glorious.”
Letter to Emile Bernard, c.21 April 1888

”I have been knocking about in the orchards, and the result is five size 30 canvases, which along with the three studies of olives that you have, at least constitute an attack on the problem. The olive is as variable as our willow or pollard willow in the North, you know the willows are very striking, in spite of their seeming monotonous, they are the trees characteristic of the country. Now the olive and the cypress have exactly the significance here as the willow has at home. What I have done is a rather hard and coarse reality beside their abstractions, but it will have a rustic quality, and will smell of the earth. ”
Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.21 November 1889

Vincent van Gogh on Painting Trees


NORFOLK., United Kingdom

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