The Siesta [After Millet] by Vincent van Gogh

From exactly 2 years ago, here’s one of my favorite essays on Vincent van Gogh and one of his works that has hung on my bedroom wall for decades now.


Siesta-VVGVan Gogh was a relentless and consummate practitioner of his art, sacrificing much for it, as ongoing myth, legend, gossip and research inform us. A chief approach of his was to do “translations” of the works of other artists whom he admired the most. We say “translated” because he did not just copy their works. Rather, he created his own versions of them and, particularly, experimented differently with the interplay of color and light. However, for the most part, he stayed true to all the still life details of the original compositions.

One of those influential and revered artists was Jean-François Millet, well-known for his realist / naturalist paintings and, above all, portraits of working peasants. Millet made the so-called “peasant genre” mainstream by showing them as the focal points and main subjects of his works rather than as peripheral embellishments.

During van Gogh’s voluntary asylum period in…

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All three characters get near-equal screen time and show enough depth and complexity that it would be fair to say that this story is not just about the artist. It is about the artist, his son and their muse. Yet, the story isn’t so much a drama or even a narrative. Rather, it is a collection of small, but momentous, incidents in the lives of these three people who survive in the eye of the raging storm that is World War I.


The Siesta [After Millet] by Vincent van Gogh

While not as popular as some of his other peasant paintings (e.g. ‘The Potato Eaters’, with its much darker tones), this one is typical of Van Gogh’s signature style, particularly, the rich, bright blue, violet, yellow, and orange hues. There's also the careful, well-articulated detail: sickles lying next to the male figure in the foreground, the blue cart and dappled animals in the background, the gold-brown shadows that give more depth to the yellow field and the various shades of blue and violet that make the noon sky shimmer bright. Those same blue and violet colors are also mirrored in the clothes of the peasants, completing the chromatic construction that he was perfecting in that final phase of his life.