Paula Grove writes:
While Jose Navarro's interpretations are persuasive, I wish to offer a contrasting theory. Vincent did not intend any symbolism, but simply painted what he saw. Remember that this painting is a "close-up" of the asylum garden in St. Rémy. When one takes a close-up photograph, one sees only a part of the scene. This scene may have had a whole bed of white irises on either side of this clump of blue/violet ones. Please note that the all-white blossom on the left is balanced with a blossom on the far right which has one white petal and one petal which is mostly white.
In addition we have the letter to Theo (LT591) written during or at the end of this first week in St. Rémy in May, 1889, which says, "Have you received the case of pictures? I am anxious to know whether they have suffered. I am working on two others-SOME VIOLET IRISES (caps mine) and a lilac bush, two subjects taken from the garden." LT 592 and LT593 are quite lengthy and give detailed descriptions of his room at St. Rémy, including the pattern of his curtain and chair fabrics. LT 592 includes details of his painting of the death-head moth. This minute detail appears in letter after letter describing his current work. Color, style, figures included, sometimes the symbolism he intends, all are written in fine descriptive passages. Many of these passages are almost poetic. The fact that the one letter he wrote while working on the "Irises" and the two letters immediately following contain virtually no description of the "Irises" convince me by their ABSENCE of detail, that the irises and lilacs were simply what he saw. In a later letter he refers to them as "studies."
One can compare LT591 with those he wrote at the end of his stay in St. Rémy while he was working on the four still lifes of flowers. He gives detail again regarding their color(s) as well as the colors of the backgrounds.
Finally, one might consider a most mundane reason. In LT594 written about June 9, he requests that Theo send him, among other colors, "8 tubes flake white." Later in the same letter he writes, "I have no more white at all at all." (Vincent's repetition.) He used very little white in these early St. Rémy pictures perhaps because he had little white paint.
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