Sunday, January 29, 2017

Vincent van Gogh: A Man As A Mulberry Tree

A Man As A Mulberry Tree

La Sha Ackerman

Prof B. Williams

March 10, 2013

“The Mulberry Tree”

Vincent van Gogh

Norton Simon Museum

Pasadena, California


            In October of 1889, less than a year before he would take his own life, Vincent van Gogh completed a painting he would call “The Mulberry Tree.” In multiple letters to his siblings he referred to it as one of his favorite paintings he had ever made, and despite being housed in a mental asylum for his severe depression, it has been noted that each time he spoke of “The Mulberry Tree” he exuded happiness. It has been speculated that “The Mulberry Tree” is actually a self portrait, and after close examination, one may easily argue that perhaps it is more honest a self portrait than any of the representative paintings he created depicting his actual form.



            “The Mulberry Tree” was painted by Vincent van Gogh in late 1889. It was started in October, however the actual date of completion is unknown. The name “The Mulberry Tree” comes from the subject of the painting, which is simply a mulberry tree. It is a landscape oriented painting in oil on canvas. It shows a mulberry tree growing out of a rocky terrain outside of the asylum where he lived. Because it was autumn at the time it was created, the leaves are vivid orange and yellow. To the right of the tree there is also greenery in the distance and another small bush which has turned bright orange. The sky is brightest around the tree in the foreground, then becomes darker and dimmer near the edges. There is very little vegetation near the tree. The ground is comprised of light brown, white, and tan painted in small rapid brush strokes. The tree, which is centered on the canvas features a thick crooked trunk in dark brown. The branches and leaves run together as a mass of swirls, with thick outlining in dark brown.



            The foreground features the lightest hues since it depicts the sandy and rocky earth which the mulberry tree has grown out of. The mid-ground is somewhat darker, because while the leaves are very vivid and bright, they are still darker than the terrain. The background is the darkest of all because it depicts the sky during the time of day when the sun has either begun to set, or perhaps not fully risen. The painting has been arranged in such a way that the tree is centered, and the brightly colored branches take up most of the upper portion of the canvas. The colors which van Gogh chose vary widely from very pale, almost white, to a very dark shade of blue which is almost black. The darkness of the sky serves to highlight the contrasting brightness of the leaves. Because van Gogh worked in impressionistic style, there are very few concrete shapes. Instead, the objects in the scene are suggested through the small swirling strokes of color which are known to be the van Gogh's trademark style. The perspective used allows the viewer to see into the distance behind the mulberry tree.



            In interpreting this painting I can see many similarities between the subject and the man who created it. At the most obvious level, it has bright orange leaves, which are falling as seen to the left of the main subject, just as the artist had diminishing hair of similar color at the time of it's creation. The tree stands alone, which is parallel to the loneliness van Gogh felt at the time. Also, the tree has grown out of an inhospitable area of earth, comprised of rocks and sand, which may also metaphorically represent the struggles that he had grown through. The trunk is twisted and crooked, which may also be a metaphor for how he viewed himself. The sky which is darkening at the corners could be representative of how he saw the future. Considering the fact that he died so soon after painting this work, and the deep depression that he was typically in during the period, it is unlikely that he would paint anything representative of the future in anything but darkening colors. Additionally, the branches are disorderly and twisted yet boldly painted, perfectly depicting the painfully self aware chaos of his mental state. The painting “The Mulberry Tree” is much more than an image of a tree- it is a depiction of a bright, wild, and chaotic thing in a realm alone with ever darkening horizons.



            When attempting to determine “what I like about this work” I can only conclude that I like everything about it. Even if it were completely devoid of symbolism and I had no idea who painted it, I would still be drawn to it's bright and bold swirling branches, and it's starkly contrasting foreground and background. As a mere depiction of a mulberry tree in autumn it is successful because it is visually interesting and pleasing to look at. As a depiction of the artist who created the painting I would say it is even more successful because it portrays his emotional turmoil and mental state in a way that far surpasses any actual portraits of the artist. Beyond being just a lovely image of a lone softwood, this piece of art very successfully represents van Gogh, the man, as a mulberry tree.



Works Cited

Frank, P. (2011). Prebles' artforms: an introduction to the visual arts. (10th ed. ed.). Upper Saddle             River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Van Gogh, Vincent. The Mulberry Tree. 1889. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
The Van Gogh Gallery. “The Mulberry Tree.” 10 March 2013

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