In 1889, following Vincent van Gogh’s ear injury, he did not return to the Yellow House. Instead the suffering artist spent his nights at the hospital knowing that he did not feel capable of caring for himself. It was shortly after this that Van Gogh committed himself to the asylum of Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
After recovering from his injury, but still residing at the hospital, Van Gogh was allowed to continue his work outdoors. One of the paintings created during this time was Pollard Willows or Road with Pollard Willows. The painting, whether intentionally or not, seems to carry a great deal of symbolism. The painting depicts an empty road bordered on one side by a brick wall and the other side by desolate trees. The road trails off into a bend in the distance. Since we know that this painting was created at a time when Van Gogh was working to leave a painfully eventful period in Arles behind him and he was on his way to something new and unknown in Saint-Remy the symbolism is unmistakable.
Pollard Willows by Vincent van Gogh
The pollard willow was a favorite subject of Van Gogh’s. Early in his career he had created numerous drawings of pollard willows and towards the end of his life he began painting them. Van Gogh drew pollard willows and other trees just as one would create a figure study of a human, they seemed to almost have a human dimension. Van Gogh looked on them as having life in them, as living beings.
It was just one year before his death that he painted Pollard Willows. In the painting, the bald willows, recently cut, could be a metaphor for Van Gogh’s life, wounded but not done yet.