15 3/8 by 22 ¼ in.
39 by 56.5 cm
Painted in July 1882.
Watercolor and gouache on paper
C. Mouwen, Jr., Breda (sold: Frederik Muller et Cie., Amsterdam. May 3, 1904, lot 21)
Galerie Oldenzeel, Rotterdam
M. Gieseler, The Hague (sold: Mak, Amsterdam, October 27, 1925, lot 27)
Paul Cassirer and Marcel Goldschmidt, Berlin (acquired jointly on November 2, 1925)
Marcel Goldschmidt, Berlin & Paris (acquired in total from the above on November 6, 1925)
Georges Renand, Paris (acquired circa 1935, probably from the above, and sold: Ader, Tajan, Paris, March 20, 1990, 62A)
Purchased at the above sale by the descendants of Georges Renand
Rotterdam, Kunstzalen Odenzeel, Vincent van Gogh, 1903, either no. 1 or 3
Rotterdam, Kunstzalen Odenzeel, Vincent van Gogh, 1904, no. 54
Bern, Kunsthalle, Fränzosische Meister des 10. Jahrhunderts und van Gogh, 1934, no. 57
Basel, Kunsthalle, Meisterzeichnungen französischer Künstler von Ingres bis Cézanne, 1935, no. 239
Paris, Palais de Tokyo, La Vie et L'Oeuvre de Van Gogh, 1937, no. 62
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Le Paysage Français de Corot à nos jours, 1942, no. 201
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Van Gogh, 1947, no. 233
Basel, Kunsthalle, Vincent van Gogh, 1947, no. 119
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Vincent van Gogh, 1956, no. 26
Paris, Musée Jacquemart André, Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890, 1960, no. 82
Munich, Städtische Galerie, Vincent van Gogh, Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, 1961, no. 20
The present work depicts the view from van Gogh's attic window overlooking the roof tops of The Hague. In a letter to his brother Theo dated shortly after the completion of this picture in July 1882, the artist described this very scene and the tranquility he experienced while executing it on a Sunday morning. “Just imagine me sitting in my attic window,” he wrote, “as early as four o'clock in the morning, studying, with my perspective frame, the meadows and the carpenter's workshop when they are lighting the fires to make coffee in the cottages and the first workman comes loitering in the yard. Over the red tiled roofs a flock of white pigeons comes soaring between the black smoky chimneys. Behind it all, wide stretch of soft, tender green, miles and miles of flat pasture…This view of the roof ridges and the gutters in which grass grows, and those first signs of life awakening, the bird that flies, the chimney that smokes, the little figure loitering far down below - this is the subject of my water color. I hope you like it.” (The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Greenwich, 1958, letter no. 219, pp. 419-20).
The artist executed this composition only a few months after having moved to The Hague from his parents' home in Brabant. One of the advantages of this new city for Van Gogh was its artistic life, filled with the activities of artists, art societies, art dealers and all of the other prerequisites of a young artist looking to make his way in the world. But as it turned out, he had a difficult time acclimating to life in The Hague, finding it hard to ingratiate himself with dealers and otherwise make friends. His disappointment is clearly stated in a letter which he wrote to Theo after a year in city: "I sometimes think back to a year ago when I came to the town here, I had imagined that the painters here formed a kind of circle or club, where warmth and sincerity and certain unity prevailed. To me, that was the nature of things and I did not know it could be otherwise. Nor would I wish to love the ideas I had about this when I came here, even if I have to change them and make a distinction between what is and what might be. I could not believe that it is a natural situation for so much coolness and disunity to exist" (ibid., letter no. 256, p. 519).
One of the few commissions van Gogh received during this period was from his uncle Cor, a local art dealer, who requested from his nephew a series of townscapes of The Hague. The artist did not look for the subject for this series among the traditional monuments of the city, but instead focused on sites that were all near his home at 136 Schenkweg in the neighborhood of the Rijnspoor Railway Station (see fig. 1). Cor was quite pleased with the results of his nephew's undertaking, and requested a second series of drawings of similar subjects. These townscapes became the artist's primary theme during his time in The Hague. Van Gogh sketched several of these compositions from the window in his home, which overlooked a carpenter's workshop and a laundry to the coal shed, the engine shed and the workshops of the Rijnspoor. These sites are depicted frequently in most of his production from 1882, including the present work which he completed that July and two other related drawings (see figs. 2 and 3). This particular view continued to fascinate him throughout the year, and he executed a watercolor study, similar to the present work, the following winter in 1883 (see fig. 4).
For many of these depictions of The Hague, van Gogh began with pencil, continued with pen and ink, and then applied large washes of watercolor. The present work is a fine example of how he was able to harness the color potential of this medium. Discussing van Gogh's use of watercolor, Johannes van der Wolk has noted its importance in the artist's production throughout his life: “In fact, van Gogh never entirely gave up painting in watercolour. He never became a watercolourist in the traditional sense of the term, however, for apart from a few exceptions he preferred to use watercolour as his body colour rather than transparently. It seems that as a rule he liked to use watercolour as a means to colour in a composition rather to build up a picture with it. Entirely in line with this somewhat aloof attitude towards the medium of watercolour, when making watercolour drawings, he was not only concerned with the technique itself, but particularly also with composition problems” (Johannes van der Wolk, Vincent van Gogh, Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, 1990, p. 69).
FIg. 1, Contemporary photograph of the Rijnspoor Railway Station in The Hague
Fig. 2, Vincent van Gogh, Les Toits, July 1882, colored sketch, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam
Fig. 3, Vincent van Gogh, Carpenter's Yard and Laundry, Summer 1882, pencil, ink and paint on laid paper, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo
Fig. 4, Vincent van Gogh, View from the window of Vincent's studio in Winter, 1883, watercolor, Collection Krugier, Geneva