“The Intersection of Realist Traditions and Modern Experiences in Vincent van Gogh’s The Road Menders of 1889”

Heather Shepherd


Last summer I was given the opportunity to work closely with an extensive exhibition of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings at the National Gallery of Canada (through a class run here at the University of Alberta). I focused my research for the class on unpacking the significance of an unorthodox painting in the show entitled The Large Plane Trees (1889), which presents Jean François Millet-inspired digging figures in a markedly diminished and experimental way. Looking to the overt spirituality of Van Gogh’s personal writings, Van Gogh’s curious obsession of copying Millet’s agrarian figures, the influence of Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints, and nineteenth-century politics regarding the depicting of the rural and working classes, this paper gives readers a chance to understand a small portion of the pedagogy, and aims of an artist whose aspirations have been wildly misconstrued by popular and academic media.

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