With the autumn in full swing, this time of year brings to mind harvest time and preparing for next year. Van Gogh must have thought the same thing as he was capturing The Reaper and The Sower on canvas. Inspired by Jean-François Millet, Van Gogh created several “Reaper” and “Sower” paintings between the years 1888 and 1889.
The Sower, shown above left, was painted by Van Gogh in November of 1888. In this painting, Van Gogh was experimenting with the use of vibrant complementary colors – something he would continue to do and something he would become known for in some of his most famous paintings like Starry Night. In a letter to his brother Theo from November of 1888, Van Gogh described the colors he was using in the Sower as “Immense citron-yellow disk for the sun. Sky green-yellow with pink clouds. The field violet, the sower and the tree Prussian blue.” Although the sun is a large and beaming yellow in this painting, there is still a sense of darkness that is present in the midst of fall.
In Wheat Fields with Reaper at Sunrise, shown above right, again the subject is simple and again the use of color intense. With the brilliant yellows and golds of the wheat fields in this painting there is more of a feeling of life and light contrary to the subject matter. Van Gogh described this contrast in another letter to Theo from September of 1889 when he wrote, “For I see in this reaper – a vague figure toiling away for all he’s worth in the midst of the heat to finish his task – I see in him the image of death, in the sense that humanity might be the wheat he is reaping. So it is, if you like, the opposite of the sower which I tried to do before. But there’s no sadness in this death, this one takes place in broad daylight with a sun flooding everything with light of pure gold.” Contributing to the effect of the opposites is also the fact that The Sower takes place at sunset while the Reaper at sunrise.
Van Gogh completed several different Sower and Reaper paintings; to see them or to find out where they are located today, view our catalog.