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Vincent van Gogh and Fall

Though he is better known for his sunflowers, Starry Night, and self-portraits, Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh also made several landscapes inspired by the fall season. Some date from his early career before he adopted his signature style, while others came later. We'll take a look at his fall inspiration, color theory that he used, his different view of fall, fall painting at the height of his powers, and the only painting he sold. Read on to learn more.

Fall: An Inspiration

Vincent van Gogh, Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, 1884
Vincent van Gogh, Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, 1884

The season of fall inspired van Gogh starting from his first years as an artist. In this painting, he displays remarkable command of linear perspective, depicting a long tree-lined road in front of a farmhouse. Wagon tracks are just barely visible in the dirt, indicating that someone has recently left. Perhaps the figure walking in the foreground is trying to catch up? The same year this picture was painted, van Gogh visited the National Gallery in London. There, he saw a similar painting, The Avenue at Middelharnis by 17th-century Dutch artist Meindert Hobbema, which served as inspiration for this work.

Color Theory

Van Gogh, Autumn Landscape, 1885
Van Gogh, Autumn Landscape, 1885

Autumn Landscape dates to 1885, a pivotal year of van Gogh’s career. Van Gogh painted his first major work, The Potato Eaters, in spring 1885, and this picture was completed only a few months later in October. Largely a contrast between two complementary colors, blue and orange, the work indicates van Gogh’s interest in color theory. The woods are desolate but for a few birds, perhaps crows, which may foreshadow van Gogh’s depiction of crows in a masterpiece years later, Wheatfield with Crows (1890).

A Different View of Fall

Van Gogh, Autumn Landscape with Four Trees, 1885
Van Gogh, Autumn Landscape with Four Trees, 1885

Completed a month after Autumn Landscape, this painting presents a bleaker perspective of fall. Four trees stand against a cold grey sky. Three trees are heavy with dark orange leaves but the fourth is bare, suggesting the passage of time and the coming of winter. A solitary figure dressed in black and white stands in the background. Van Gogh moved to Antwerp in November 1885. During this time, he was extremely poor, spending money on painting rather than food. The gloomy nature of this painting may reflect the difficulties of his life and perhaps his loneliness after moving to a new city.

Van Gogh at the Height of His Powers

Van Gogh, Willows at Sunset, 1888

This painting, completed in 1888, is done in the style for which van Gogh is best known. Bright, fiery reds and yellows illuminate the dry grass of the field. The golden background and brassy foreground contrast with the thin blue ribbon of a river and the knobby grey trunks of the barren trees. Van Gogh’s study of color theory, evident in its initial stages in Autumn Landscape (1885), has reached its apex here. The two paintings are excellent examples of van Gogh treating the same theme of fall in different ways as his technique evolved over time.

The Only Painting van Gogh Sold

Van Gogh, The Red Vineyard, 1888.
Van Gogh, The Red Vineyard, 1888.

Van Gogh famously sold only one painting during his lifetime. Art historians believe that this is that painting. Depicting workers harvesting grapes in a vineyard, this work was purchased by Belgian painter Anna Boch when it was exhibited in Brussels. Van Gogh completed it in November 1888 while the painter Paul Gauguin was visiting him in Arles, a city in southern France. The red and green leaves complement each other, again exhibiting the careful attention to color theory that characterizes van Gogh’s work.


Van Gogh painted the season of fall throughout his entire career, from his first days as a painter to the last years of his life. Comparing his paintings with fall subjects provides an interesting perspective on his development as an artist. Which is your favorite?

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