Falling Autumn Leaves, 1888, by Vincent Van Gogh

Falling Autumn Leaves I, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh
Courtesy of www.VincentVanGogh.org

Falling Autumn Leaves is a pair of paintings Vincent van Gogh executed during the two months at the end of 1888 that his artist friend Paul Gauguin spent with him at The Yellow House in Arles, France.

Following months of correspondence, Paul Gauguin joins Van Gogh in Arles in October 1888. Both were intent on depicting a "non-naturalist landscape". The paintings are of the first works that van Gogh and Gauguin painted following Gauguin's arrival.

Van Gogh and Gauguin visited an ancient Roman necropolis, Les Alyscamps, which had been built by the Romans outside city walls. Over time the grounds were overtaken by factories and the railroad. The city relocated some of the sarcophagi in a long alley lined with benches and poplar trees that led to a Romanesque chapel and which became known as the Allée des Tombeaux. It quickly became a lover's lane celebrated throughout France.

During a period of bad weather Van Gogh worked on a second pair of "Les Alyscamps" paintings, which were taken from a vantage point above the lane and looking through the poplar trees, made in the studio. The yellow-orange of the leaves contrast to the violet-blue trunks of the poplar trees. This painting, made shortly after Gauguin's arrival in Arles, was unique to Van Gogh's body of work and representative of the artistic achievements found by two great artists working together. To Émile Bernard Van Gogh described the collaborative process as a pooling of thoughts and techniques where each artist creates their own unique work that is different, yet complements one another. Van G ogh believed that his pair of paintings Falling Autumn Leaves was just such a collaborative effort influenced by his own ideas as well as those of Gauguin and Bernard.

Falling Autumn Leaves II, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh
Courtesy of www.VincentVanGogh.org

The paintings were made on Gauguin's jute which with Van Gogh's brushstroke made a finished tapestry-like texture. The high vantage point represented in the work resembled that of Gauguin's Vision. Creating a composition of a landscape viewed through the trunks of trees was something used previously by Bernard. Van Gogh used complementary, contrasting colors to intensify the effect of each color. The blue poplar trunks against the yellow path of leaves. Green used against red. Violet was paired with apricot. To his sister, Van Gogh wrote of selection and placement of contrasting colors "which cause each other to shine brilliantly, which form a couple, which complete each other like man and woman."

Van Gog's imagination created the figures in the paintings. In one, a couple of a thin man with an umbrella is paired with a large woman, much like Van Gogh's image of a woman he might settle down with. On the lane is also a red-dressed woman. The other painting holds a couple who walk along the lane between stone sarcophagi, a yellow sunset at their backs.