Oil on canvas
71.0 x 93.0 cm.
Saint-Rémy: May, 1889
F 608, JH 1691
Los Angeles: Getty Center
Vincent van Gogh painted Irises shortly after he voluntarily admitted himself into the St.-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. Irises was painted in the garden to the south of the men's quarters--the only area Van Gogh was permitted to work during the first month of his confinement. The scene is a symphony of vibrant colours with the magnificent violet iris petals dominating the rich red soil and the bright orange marigolds in the background.
In May, 1889 Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: "Have you received the case of pictures? I am anxious to know whether or not they have suffered. I am working on two others--some violet irises and a lilac bush, two subjects taken from the garden. (Letter 591). Later, in the same letter Vincent writes to his sister-in-law Johanna about the conditions of the asylum:
Though here there are some patients very seriously ill, the fear and horror of madness that I used to have has already lessened a great deal. And though here you continually hear terrible cries and howls like beasts in a menagerie, in spite of that people get to know each other very well and help each other when their attacks come on. When I am working in the garden, they all come to look, and I assure you they have the discretion and manners to leave me alone--more than the good people of the town of Arles, for instance.
Van Gogh shipped the completed Irises to Theo in Paris and his brother was extremely taken with the painting. Theo submitted the work to the Salon des Indépendents in September, 1889. Theo wrote to Vincent:
Now I still have to tell you that the exhibition of the Indépendents is open, and that your two pictures are there, the "Irises" and "The Starlit Night." The latter is hung badly, for one cannot put oneself at a sufficient distance, as the room is very narrow, but the other one makes an extremely good showing. They have put it on the narrow wall of the room, and it strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life.While on display at the Salon Irises caught the attention of the critic Félix Fénéon who wrote "The Irises violently slash into long strips, their violet petals on sword-like leaves." Years after the exhibition the writer Octave Mirbeau would acquire Irises (see provenance below) and his conversation about the painting with Claude Monet was recalled by the French journalist Léon Daudet:
I can once again see, though it was many years ago, Monet speaking with Mirbeau about another famous painter, Vincent van Gogh, on the subject of a path of irises, a canvas that in Mirbeau's nervous, blond-haired hands gloriously shimmered in the light. "How," Monet was saying, "did a man who loved flowers and light to such an extent, and who rendered them so well, how, then did he still manage to be so unhappy?"There has been some speculation about the symbolic import of Irises. Some feel that the lone, white iris was Van Gogh's depiction of himself in the asylum--isolated and detached from the rest of the staff and inmates. Such interpretation is, of course, completely subjective and neither Vincent nor Theo's correspondence put forth any such suggestions.
Van Gogh would paint the asylum's iris garden once more--a smaller and more subdued painting now on display in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
1. Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers (Harry N. Abrams, 1986).
|Bernheim-Jeune Art Gallery||Paris||France||
|Mrs. Jacques Doncet||Neuilly-sur-Seine||France||
|Jacques Seligmann and Co. Art Gallery||New York||United States||1937|
|César de Hauke||New York||United States||
|M. Knoedler and Co.||New York||United States||
|Joan Whitney Payson||New York||United States||1947|
|Alan Bond||Perth||Australia||11 November 1987|
|Getty Center||Los Angeles||United States||March, 1990|
|Year||City||Country||Venue||Exhibition Name||Start Date||End Date||No.|
|1889||Paris||France||Salles de la Sté d'Horticulture||Salon des artistes indépendants||3 September 1889||4 October 1889||273|
|1901||Paris||France||Galerie Bernheim-Jeune||Exposition d'Oeuvres de Vincent van Gogh||15 March 1901||31 March 1901||31|
|1905||Paris||France||Grandes Serres de l'Alma||Exposition de la Société des Artistes Indépendants, 21e exposition: Exposition rétrospective Vincent van Gogh||24 March 1905||30 April 1905||32|
|1925||Paris (3)||France||Musée des Arts Décoratifs||Cinquante ans de peinture française 1875-1925||28 May 1925||12 July 1925||79|
|1927||Paris||France||Galerie Bernheim-Jeune||Vincent van Gogh l'époque française||20 June 1927||2 July 1927|
|1929||New York||United States||Museum of Modern Art||First Loan Exhibition Cézanne-Gauguin-Seurat-Van Gogh||8 November 1929||7 December 1929||95|
|1931||Paris||France||Galerie Paul Rosenberg||Oeuvres importantes de grands maitres du dix-neuvième siècle||18 June 1931||21 June 1931||44|
|1935||Brussels||Belgium||Palais des Beaux-Arts||L'Impressionisme||15 June 1935||29 September 1935||95|
|1937||Paris||France||Les Nouveaux Musées, Quai de Tokyo||La vie et l'oeuvre de Van Gogh||
|1940||Detroit (1)||United States||Detroit Institute of Arts||The Age of Impressionism and Objective Realism||3 May 1940||2 June 1940||47|
|1942||Worcester||United States||Worcester Art Museum||Paintings by Van Gogh||28 October 1942||28 November 1942||19|
|1942||Baltimore||United States||Baltimore Museum of Art||Paintings by Van Gogh||18 September 1942||18 October 1942||19|
|1943||New York (2)||United States||Wildenstein and Co.||The Art and Life of Vincent van Gogh. Loan Exhibition in Aid of American and Dutch War Relief||6 October 1943||7 November 1943||44|
|1948||New York (1)||United States||M. Knoedler and Co.||Vincent van Gogh: 14 Masterpieces||30 March 1948||17 April 1948||11|
|1949||New York (1)||United States||Century Association||Trends in European Painting: 1680-1930||2 February 1949||31 March 1949||5|
|1955||New York (3)||United States||Museum of Modern Art||Paintings from Private Collections||31 May 1955||5 September 1955||48|
|1956||New Haven||United States||Yale University Art Gallery||Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni||8 May 1956||18 June 1956||97|
|1980||Kyoto||Japan||Kyoto Municipal Museum||From Goya to Wyeth: The Joan Whitney Payson Collection||
|1980||Tokyo (2)||Japan||Isetan Museum of Art||From Goya to Wyeth: The Joan Whitney Payson Collection||
|1984||Los Angeles||United States||Los Angeles County Museum of Art||A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape||28 June 1984||16 September 1984||90|
|1984-85||Chicago||United States||Art Institute of Chicago||A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape||18 October 1984||6 January 1985||90|
|1986-87||New York||United States||Metropolitan Museum of Art||Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy and Auvers||12 November 1986||22 March 1987||1|
|1999||Ottawa||Canada||National Gallery of Canada||Van Gogh's Iris. Masterpiece in Focus||11 June 1999||16 September 1999||
|1999||Winnipeg||Canada||Winnipeg Art Gallery||Art in the Age of Van Gogh: Dutch Paintings from the Rijksmuseum||16 May 1999||11 July 1999|
|1999||Los Angeles (1)||United States||Getty Center||Vincent's Irises||19 January 1999||21 March 1999||
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