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Blossoming Acacia Branches

Oil on canvas
32.5 x 24.0 cm.
Auvers-sur-Oise: June, 1890
F 821, JH 2015

Stockholm: National Museum

Blossoming Acacia Branches is an interesting work in that a number of people question its authenticity. It was painted during Van Gogh's brief but prolific Auvers-sur-Oise period, a two month span many feel is far too short for Van Gogh to have produced 76 paintings. Some question the subject matter with regards to the time of year in which the work was painted. It's argued that acacias are no longer in bloom by June in northern France. But others maintain that this plant is, in fact, black locust or "false acacia" (Robinia pseudoacacia) which is still in bloom by June. And, of course, there is always the possibility that Van Gogh painted these flowers from memory. Although Van Gogh preferred to paint in plein air, he did occasionally paint from memory.
Jose Navarro of Spain comments further:
  1. Looking the canvas with enough enlargement, we can see mainly yellow brush strokes, spot white-grey areas and a trunk. The drawing is not made with details. The name of the painting is flowering acacia.

  2. First a botanical explanation. The leaves of the acacia are not simple but compound. That means that a leaf is formed by an axe and couples of leaflets (little leaves). The number of foliolos depend of the variety from two to 25 couples. But the number of leaflets is always a pair.

  3. The flowers are generally yellow. You can have flowers in the south of France from December to June or July, depending on varieties.

  4. The pseudo acacia has a number unpaired of foliolos and the flowers are generally white.

  5. In the canvas there is no full leaf, so we cannot see if they are pair or unpaired. So the only element of identification is the white-grey areas that we can imagine are flowers because the form of the flower is not copied from the real form. It is a weak line of identification but there is no other. Pseudo acacia can have flowers from March to June.

  6. It is strange that there is not green leaves. Van Gogh has painted the leaflets in yellow. The lack of chlorophyll could be caused by a basic soil or by asphyxia, but pseudo acacia is well adapted to different types of soils. It could be caused by an illness, but these agronomical reasons do not look serious enough. I think that Van Gogh painted in yellow the leaves exposed to the sun, and in blue-grey those in the shade, and this change from green to yellow is a brave decision of a painter like Van Gogh.

  7. This is, in my modest criterion, an impressionist canvas painted quickly and giving main importance to the light. In certain aspects refer to "Celebration of Bastille Day." (F222, JH1108)

Now let me tell you a couple of anecdotes about acacias and pseudo-acacias.

  • When I was a child, in the way to the school there were pseudo-acacias. The flower is papilionacea (in the form of butterfly or lips) We used to take one, and moving it in a certain manner it looked like the mouth of a rabbit opening and closing. So we called these flowers "little rabbits". In the base of the calyx there was a drop of liquid very sweet that we used to lick.

  • Almond plantings need pollinators to get a good production. Frequently one of the varieties bloomed before the other and there were no coincidence. So I thought to solve the problem by artificial pollination, using bees to pick the pollen of the first variety, to keep it on a fridge and then put the pollen at the door of the hives to pollinate the second variety.

    Before planning a deep investigation, I made an essay to see what problems I could find in the development of the idea. This was in the first week of one January.

    Bees used to look for the food in the flowers of a species and only change of species when the flower is over.

    So I eliminated all the wild flowers of the farm (a big one) and brought a group of hives from other area. I put my observation place two or three meters far from the hives and with prismatic to observed all the movements of the bees. The pollen to take was near white but what was my surprise when the balls of pollen brought by the bees were full yellow. Bees liked more the pollen of one big acacia situated three or four kilometres away. Yellow colour attracts strongly the bees and in general to all insects.

    When I put pollen at the door of the hives waiting that the bees would impregnate their feet before going to the almonds, they went out, not walking on the soil, but walking on the side of the door up to 20-25 centimeters of the outside wall of the hives and then they fell in the air like a delta wing. (I am yet thinking how I must convince bees of the decent way to leave a hive).

    To land they used to strike the wall of the hive and to fall on the platform.

    In the four days of the essay I received some collateral damage of the bees: a dozen bites. But we must suffer for science.

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