Willows at Sunset, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh

This painting was done at great speed, and has the appearance of being unfinished or being a sketch for a later work. There is another painting that incorporates a pollarded willow in the foreground set against a vibrant sky with a figure of a sower, and it is possible that this picture was intended as a study for the later one. However, he used the image of pollarded willows in several paintings, and it seems to have been a form that he was attracted to. There is something stark and rather sinister about the truncated trees, particularly in this picture, as their spiky branches appear to form a grill across the picture surface and in front of the great, glowing sun.

Van Gogh has again treated the sun with some reverence, lending it a symbolic and almost iconic importance. Throughout the whole picture there is enormous north-south movement with his brushstrokes being strongly vertical virtually in their entirety, with the exception of the radiating strokes from the sun. There is a sense that he attacked the canvas with his paint in this picture. It has a surreal quality manifested in the strident, fierce strokes and intense colours.