In-person museum experience may provide much more information about an art work than looking at the image of a painting or sculpture online. It adds more emotions to the process of interpreting a piece of art and makes the contact between a viewer and an art object closer and more personal. This paper is devoted to the description of my visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum and a detailed analysis of the painting titled The Wheat Field (ca. 1906) by Maurice de Vlaminck, a French artist. He was active at the beginning of the twentieth century.
This oil on canvas is of medium size (64.77 × 81.76 cm). However, its intensity of the landscape painted by Vlaminck is so great that the viewer is almost drawn inside. The painting has a classical landscape composition. It is divided into two horizontal parts with the lower section depicting the land slightly larger than the sky. The bottom part looks like a patchwork quilt. It combines several bright shapes, i.e. green, orange and yellow fields with some emerald bushes at the fore. There are two tall trees without leaves close to the right edge of the painting. They are done in warm red colors that match the central field of wheat. The horizon line is intensified by a long row of small village houses. They are white with red roofs. The trees located close to these houses are very dark. They are very far from the viewer; therefore, they seem to be very small. The sky above the fields is very cloudy, but it does not look as if it rains. Vlaminck depicted a typical summer day in the country when clouds were plentiful. However, they do not protect from the heat of the sun. At the upper left corner of the painting, there is some red mark, but its meaning is not very clear. It could have been the sun. However, judging by the shades of the objects, the sun at the moment depicted by the artist is located at the right part of the sky. Another interpretation of this red matter could be another branch of a tree similar to those two ones drawn at the right part of the painting.
At this painting, Vlaminck showed a very innovative and perhaps even radical approach to the usage of elements and principles of design if compared to the traditional art of the late nineteenth century. The lines here play a very significant role. As the brushstrokes on this painting are more than visible, they contribute to the creation of an energetic rhythm of swirling lines. These lines follow the curves of the wheat bending towards the earth and help to highlight the edges of blue clouds in the sky. The shapes of The Wheat Field are mostly organic. It is explained by the main theme of the drawing. However, Vlaminck also added some geometric shapes of houses in the distance showing that humans and nature were inseparable in the modern world. Due to the special style of the artist’s brushstrokes, the texture of the painting is very rough. The fields look like they are made of real wheat stems as the bristle-like structure of the brush allowed the artist to create a very expressive texture perfectly rendering the idea of a wheat field on a windy day.
In contrast to an innovative approach to the elements of design, the artistic principles are almost classical here. The painting is perfectly balanced; and the location of the horizon line makes the general composition very stable. The repetition of lines created by brush strokes would have made the painting monotonous. However, Vlaminck makes each line and shape slightly different from others highlighting their organic individuality. It makes a great contribution to the general harmony of the work giving a great satisfying effect from adjacent colors and shapes. The similar way of using lines both for depicting the fields and the sky creates a feeling of unity between these two large parts of the masterpiece.
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Color is of special importance in this painting. Vlaminck was one of the most celebrated Fauves, a group of artists who were working at the beginning of the twentieth century in France. They focused primarily on the expressive and semantic value of color (Hamilton, 2003). They believed that color was one of the most crucial instruments among the tools of an artist. They favored bright clear colors as those in the analyzed Vlaminck’s painting. Ferrier (2001) calls Vlaminck “a true colorist, above all” (p. 95). The vibrant use of color was, according to the Fauves, a key to effective communication of the message to the audience. In The Wheat Field, Vlaminck does not pay much attention to mixing the hues. He relied on the combination of pure colors and the effect it could produce on the viewer. It is interesting that the bottom part of the work is almost completely covered in red, yellow and orange. It is a combination of colors that would be considered too bright for almost any other artistic movement, except fauvism. However, in Vlaminck’s work, these colors look very harmonious and organic. This bright color scheme was characteristic for Vlaminck’s works in the first half of his artistic career when he was under the influence of Vincent van Gogh’s art. The Wheat Field of the artist even copies, to a certain extent, a series of Van Gogh’s paintings featuring wheat fields with cypresses or crows (Ferrier, 2001).
Later when the painter got under the predominant influence of Cezanne, his usual color schemes became calmer and more monochromic (Ferrier, 2001). However, The Wheat Field was created in the period when Vlaminck was eager to express and develop the artistic ideals of the Fauves. He wrote, “What is Fauvism? It’s me… my blues, my reds, my yellows, my pure colors and unmixed tones” (qtd. in Brodskaïa, 2011). During this period, the painter also extensively cooperated with other Fauves, like André Derain and Henri Matisse.
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The Wheat Field has many important messages to be communicated to viewers. First of all, this painting tells much about the necessity of unbiased and pure interaction with the nature. By depicting the fields, trees, and the sky in this primitive and expressive manner Vlaminck tries to remind people of the following message. The modernity does not leave them a chance to look at the nature with the eyes of children who are able to see bright colors and cheerful mood everywhere. People get so busy and burdened with their problems that such tones almost disappear from their life both literary and metaphorically. Another meaning of this painting, especially for the contemporary audience, is ecological. When I look at The Wheat Field, I can almost feel that the nature is a living organism. It is pure, full of energy and life.
Although Vlaminck’s landscape is not realistic and he does not focus on the exact rendering of the natural beauty, he managed to put into the painting the very essence of the natural forces, i.e. their freedom and wildness. Such works of art as The Wheat Field are able to have a great impact on the human consciousness making people think about the ways of protecting the environment and promoting eco-friendly lifestyles. It is especially important in the modern world. It is not clear whether Vlaminck wanted to communicate such messages with his painting, but he also had lived in the period when the Europeans faced great ecological changes as growing manufacture and business. It has drawn a clear diving line between urban cities and agricultural villages. Vlaminck spent much time of his life in Paris, but he liked travelling to the rural areas very much. Therefore, when he had time he always went there to work and paint (Brodskaïa, 2011).
In my opinion, The Wheat Field is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I like that Vlaminck managed to convey the spirit of nature, not its outer form as it is done in many landscapes. The work is inexhaustible. I had spent much time looking at this work at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I was fascinated with the brilliant and inventive usage of colors. It seems to me that the brush strokes of fields were moving, and my eyes were constantly trying to look deeper into the fields to see some little animals or birds there. I was also very interested in the lives of people in those little houses on the horizon line. Vlaminck made the nature so big and houses so small that people turned into almost insignificant creatures. However, it has inflamed my interest in them.
To conclude, The Wheat Field by Vlaminck is a perfect example of the painting that is quite classical in terms of its composition and theme. However, this work employs a range of thought-provoking innovative techniques, such as a specific usage of color, textures and brushstrokes. The painting corresponds to the main principles of Fauvism movement that had been inspiring Vlaminck for a long time. The vibrant expressive colors of this art work make the audience think about the nature as a free living organism and pay more attention to the sincere and unbiased communication with the outer world.