Vincent van Gogh
(Groot-Zundert, 1853-1890, Auvers-sur-Oise)
The Old Tower, 1884
Oil on canvas, mounted on a panel, 47.5 x 55 cm
Signed lower right: Vincent
De la Faille 88
Vincent van Gogh had gone through a severe crisis when, seeking a place of refuge at the beginning of December 1883, he arrived at his parents’ house at Nuenen in the Dutch province of North Brabant, where he stayed until the end of 1885. He was thirty years old, but young as a painter, for up to that time he had tried his hand in many occupations, but had always failed owing to his uncompromising character. After a training with Anton Mauve and a collaboration with George Hendrik Breitner in The Hague, he determines, at Nuenen, to work on his own and in accordance with his own principles.
In his father’s parsonage, in the ironing room projecting into the garden, he sets up his studio; from here, there is a view over the garden across the fields where the ruined tower of the old church soars up. During this period van Gogh repeatedly painted and sketched this tower, to accent the horizon in landscapes and harvest scenes, or close up, as here, as a symbol of transitoriness and solitude, with the sunken crosses of the old graveyard, the felled tree and the crows circling it. The earthy tones only stress the mournfulness of this place, matched by the grey of the sky.
In May 1885, the tower is pulled down. "The old tower will be pulled down next week! The spire is already down – I am doing a picture of it", Vincent writes to his brother Theo. He does sketches and watercolours of the sale of the salvaged material. He never carries out a plan to paint it again from memory, but he will paint the church in Auvers-sur-Oise in a similar manner, but the colours are more expressive and magnificent.