On June 20, 1789 more than 500 deputies of the third estate took the oath of allegiance in the tennis court in Paris. It was apparent that only the revolutionary painter David could be commissioned to depict this event.
David planned to produce a painting more than six metres long sublimating the historic oath and preserving it for posterity. He failed: the scrupulously detailed representations of the individual figures would not resolve into a unified composition. The time in which David was working was not ripe for the transmutation of a very profane present into a convincing history painting, and the work remained unfinished.
Catalogue numbers: F 156, JH 569.
In December 1884 van Gogh set himself the task of painting and drawing a large series of portraits of the peasants in Brabant. In this group of works he did not want to portray individuals but sought to characterize a type: the peasant. Rather than seeking beauty, he was looking for models that had rough, flat faces with low foreheads and thick lips.
The present bust-length portrait is a good example of the type of portraits van Gogh was envisioning. It shows a woman with heavy features dressed in a white cap and blue jacket typical for the peasant women of the time and region. Van Gogh appreciated the opportunity of painting the white caps of the women which he found difficult to do but extremely beautiful. Due to the change in the varnish of this painting, the originally strong blue jacket is discoloured.
Catalogue numbers: F 714, JH 1858.
Van Gogh entered the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum at Saint-Rémy in May 1889 as a third-class voluntary patient. In the first weeks of his treatment he did not leave the area of the asylum and he only started to paint outside the walls in June 1889. During the rest of the summer the worsening of his condition did not make it possible for him to work outside, thus in July and August he painted mostly portraits and he copied pictures of his favourite artists, Millet and Delacroix. When after the two months of forced rest he again painted outside the walls of the asylum, he was astonished by the view of the olive groves. He produced a series of olive groves.
In the Christ Carrying the Cross, the head of Christ is silhouetted against a dense mass of grimacing soldiers and ill-wishers, one of them bearing the familiar toad on his shield. Christ's physical agony is heightened by the spike-studded wooden blocks which dangle fore and aft from his waist, lacerating his feet and ankles with every step. This cruel device was frequently represented by Dutch artists well into the sixteenth century. The high horizon is old-fashioned, as is the lack of spatial recession in the middle distance. In the foreground, soldiers torment the bad thief while the good thief kneels before a priest. The almost frantic intensity of his confession, well-expressed by the open-mouthed profile, contrasts vividly with the passive response of the priest who seems to suppress a yawn. The very presence of the priest is, of course, an anachronism, probably inspired by what Bosch had witnessed at contemporary executions; the same motif appears in the great multi-figure Christ Carrying the Cross which Pieter Bruegel the Elder was to paint almost a century later.
Zephyrus, the God of Winds, and the breeze Aura are endeavouring to blow the Goddess of Love ashore. There, Venus is being received by one of the Horae, Goddesses of the Seasons, who is spreading out a robe for her. The flowers which embellish the garments distinguish this Hora as the Goddess of Spring.