The Red Vineyards
at Arles

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, together with LG SIGNATURE, is launching a large-scale project to study and conserve Vincent van Gogh's world-famous painting The Red Vineyards at Arles. The painting is one of the most important works in the artist's career and the only documented work sold during his lifetime. The painting has not left Moscow in the past 60 years. Today it is one of the centrepieces of the Gallery of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art.

For the first time in its 130-year history, the painting will be studied with the help of modern scientific methods.

The Red Vineyards at Arles has always been under close watch by specialists at the Pushkin Museum but has never before been studied. The art conservators and researchers will carry out comprehensive technical and technological studies, which will ensure a better understanding of the technology behind the painting and identify the destructive processes directly affecting its state of preservation.

What materials and paints
did van gogh use
when he worked in arles?

How did the composition
of the painting change
in the process of its creation?

How did theo van gogh prepare it
for the les xx exhibition?

Why did red vineyards in arles
never leave the museum?


Arles in the background

Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles in the south of France in February 1888, tired of the hostile Parisian crowd and intending to establish the "Workshop of the South" in that town, a new community of like-minded artists that would be based on the principles of mutual assistance. For this purpose, Van Gogh invited Paul Gauguin to Arles, and it was here that their famous quarrel took place.

The Arles period is considered to be the heyday of the master's oeuvre. In less than a year and a half Van Gogh painted over two hundred compositions: numerous views of Arles in different seasons, self-portraits (Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, Courtauld Institute, London) and several versions of a still-life with sunflowers (Sunflowers, 1889, National Gallery, London; Sunflowers, 1889, Neue Pinakothek, Munich). There he also created world-famous works Starry Night (1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York), The Red Vineyards at Arles (1889, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow) and The Night Cafe (1888, Yale University, New Haven, formerly Ivan Morozov's collection). In 1889 Van Gogh had to be admitted to a hospital for the mentally ill in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.


The elevated horizon

The elevated horizon line is a characteristic feature of Vincent van Gogh's late works. This view of the subject from above is often attributed to the influence of Japanese art, which the artist became fascinated with in the last years of his life. One of the most striking examples of his interest in Oriental art is the painting Almond Blossoms (1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) painted in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, with its clear contour lines. In the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts there are two other landscapes from 1888-1890 in which this technique can also be observed.

  • Landscape with a Carriage and a Train. 1890 Oil
    Oil, canvas. 72x90

  • The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 1888
    Oil, canvas. 45x53


The Sun

The depiction of the sun in the painting vividly demonstrates Van Gogh's style and technique. Unlike his contemporaries, who worked with subtle, translucent strokes and sought to show light and the world around them as they were in reality, Van Gogh painted the sun in a way that the human eye cannot perceive. It is a flaming disc with a clear crimson outline, scorching everything around it (it's no coincidence that the vines in the lower part of the painting are painted in blue, purple and even black - that's the world turned to ash by the sun). Judging by the degree of pastosity (thickness of paint) in some parts of the sky and the sun, we can conclude that the artist squeezed the paint directly onto the canvas, and used not only a brush, but also his own fingers as a tool. It should be noted that the yellow paint on the canvas is lead chromate, a substance that darkens when exposed to ultraviolet light. A hundred years ago, therefore, this painting was even brighter and made an even stronger impression on the viewer.


Woman with an umbrella

Setting up his easel in the field, Van Gogh worked rapidly, without sketching or priming, on canvas that he prepared himself. When his work was complete, he would remove the paintings from the stretcher and send them, rolled up, to his brother Theo in Paris. In this case the painter probably did not let the canvas dry out sufficiently (especially considering the thickness of the paint layer). That's why in some places one can see the imprints of the canvas that was on top, such as on the yellow field next to the figure of the woman under the umbrella. The woman herself is probably the main grape picker. The umbrella in her hands refers to Japanese art, which the artist was fascinated by.

  • Microphotography of the paint layer

  • Microphotography of the paint layer

  • Microphotography of the paint layer


Woman with a basket

Vincent van Gogh worked very quickly in the plein air and it was not unusual for some details to be altered or expanded upon some time later, perhaps even in the studio. The X-ray of The Red Vineyards at Arles, for example, shows that instead of a man there was originally a woman in the road: the skirt, white blouse and the hat are clearly visible. The reason for the change of image can only be speculated. Moreover, after painting the vineyard, Van Gogh added the figure of a leaning woman with a basket in the foreground. This can be seen in the glowing red shining through the thin layer of blue paint.



The blue-green trees in the composition seem to contrast with the bright sunset and blazing vineyards. Van Gogh himself wrote to his brother Theo:

"Ah, why weren't you with us on Sunday! We saw an entirely red vineyard, red like red wine. It looked yellow from afar, the sky above it was green and the ground around it was purple after the rain, with yellow sunset reflections in certain places. The rye in the background appears as a single mass, reminiscent of a wave ready to crash down and bury under it all the beauty of the vineyard and the people at work, and even the sun itself. In May, less than six months after completing the work, Van Gogh was admitted to the Saint-Paul Hospital for the Insane in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, near Arles. But the painter's efforts were not in vain. In 1890 the canvas was exhibited in Paris and immediately purchased by Anne Bosch. The Red Vineyards at Arles was the only painting ever sold in his lifetime.


The Red Vineyards

The Red Vineyards at Arles was painted in early November 1888, shortly after Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles. Vincent van Gogh was very much looking forward to Gauguin getting to Arles, and for the first time, the artists worked together. The latter painted the Arles vineyards himself, as Van Gogh wrote of him: "He is now painting women in the vineyard - entirely from memory. If he does not spoil or leave the piece unfinished, it will turn out beautiful and original". However, the painting by Paul Gauguin Grape Harvest in Arles has another title, Human Misery. The artists would soon fall out, and Gauguin would leave Arles - and then France - for good.


The woman in the white shawl

According to most researchers, the woman in the white shawl in the painting is most likely Marie Ginoux. Van Gogh rented a room from her and her husband Joseph when he first arrived in Arles. Paul Gauguin also knew them well. The Ginoux couple owned a café in the station square, and both artists painted both portraits of Madame Ginoux and the interior of her establishment; it is sufficient to recall Van Gogh's The Arlesian (1888, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and The Night Café (1888, Yale University, New Haven) and Gauguin's Café at Arles (1888, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow). To all appearances, Vincent's depiction of Madame Ginoux in The Red Vineyards at Arles is a tribute to the kind-hearted woman. It is no coincidence that he depicts her slightly sideways, unoccupied by hard work.


We will be seeking the answers to all these questions before your very eyes. This is an opportunity to peek into the museum's conservation labs and see how this painting goes through all the stages of the research. The main challenge for specialists at the Pushkin Museum is to decide what steps to take to preserve the extremely fragile but incredibly important Red Vineyard at Arles for future generations.

  • Greetings from
    Marina Loshak

  • Greetings from
    YoungNam Roh

  • Sati Spivakova about
    the museum and the project

Episode Canvas

Episode Paint layer

Episode History of Conservation

Episode State of Preservation

Episode Restoration of the frame

Episode Restoration of the painting