Exhibition: Wheatfield with a partridge - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The guest work


2007-07-09 • 2007-09-30

Wheatfield with a partridge

Mogrobejo Hall

The Guest Work is a programme which was implemented by the Bilbao Art Museum with the intention of acquainting the general public with outstanding works belonging to other museums or collections so that the artists already present in the Museum's collection might be complemented or the works of other painters not represented in the Museum might be seen. In this way, the Programme gives stability to one of the Museum's traditional lines of exhibition.


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was a great admirer of nature and the countryside. It can be seen in numerous drawings and paintings he made during his brief artistic carier.

One of the themes he depicted several times are wheatfields; Wheatfield with a partridge is the first of these that was done after Van Gogh had left The Netherlands to go to Paris. In this dynamic capital of the art world he saw the new colours of the impressionists for the first time and his meeting with young artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin made him acquainted with new artistic ideas. All this resulted in a radical change of his palette and painting technique. Also, living in the city provided him with new motives such as café interiors and street scenes.

However, he never denounced his fascination with the rural landscape and he escaped the city time and again to paint the hill of Montmartre or the Seine to the north, for example. It is not known where exactly he went in the summer of 1887 to paint Wheatfield with a partridge. Though not unique, the way he narrowed the view to a small piece of land, avoiding the panoramic context, is quite unusual in his Paris period. The composition is extremely simple, built up in three horizontal zones, the only accents being the partridge, which appears to be soaring free of the wheat, thus creating a sense of depth, and the red poppies scattered along the edge of the field. The sky, wheat and stubble are all done with different kinds of brushstroke. The waving stalks in the middle zone, bending to the left, are particularly suggestive, and break the monotony of the edge of the field. The spiky stubble, orientated diagonally to the right, contrasts with the broader, more fluently painted sky with mainly horizontal strokes. This varied and lively brushwork brings a sense of motion to Wheatfield with a partridge and it seems as if the sighing of the wind can be heared in the painting.

When Vincent van Gogh set out as an artist in 1880 he copied Jean-Francois Millet's famous painting The sower many times and not long before he left Holland he had made drawings of fields with swaying wheat. After he left Paris for the south of France in 1888, he would continue the wheat motif, be it in his own version of The sower, glowing fields, a reaper at work or monumental sheaves. To him, in the course of time the perpetual cycle of sowing, growing and reaping had become the metaphor of life and death. Wheatfield with a partridge, a seemingly straightforward and intimate rendering of a piece of nature, is charged with a universal, essentially religious idea.


Leo Jansen
Van Gogh Museum

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Wheatfield with a partridge, 1887
Oil on canvas. 54 x 65 cm
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
(Vincent Van Gogh Foundation)