Vincent van Gogh painted this picture soon after his release from the hospital, where he was recovering from the disastrous final days of Paul Gauguin’s stay with him in Arles. In a long letter to his brother Theo posted January 23, 1889, he mentions creating this painting alongside several other issues, including the need to make money through picture sales. He likely had the market in mind in painting this still life.
The painter was clearly attracted to the shapes and hues of the citrus fruit arrayed in the wicker basket, and the way their varied orb shapes play against the weave of the dried sticks, the whole set off by the prickly needles of the cypress branches. Van Gogh refers in his letter to an “air of chic” in this picture, prompted perhaps by the inclusion of blue garden gloves. The painting reveals the artist’s extraordinarily original sense of color, as well as his richly expressive paint application as he struggles to evoke the nubby waxen skin of the various fruits, the spiky fur of the branches, and the limp material of the worn gloves.
In the letter to Theo, the artist also describes the melancholic departure of his close friend Joseph Roulin, who was temporarily leaving his family for a new post in Marseilles, and reports a particularly touching moment during which the father bounced his newborn daughter Marcelle on his knee. Van Gogh would return to the hospital within the month following a second mental breakdown.
With its reference to pruning and fruit gathering, the painting was likely a particular favorite of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who with her husband Paul Mellon bought the picture in 1962. Bunny Mellon was an ardent horticulturalist, landscape designer, and collector of rare garden books. Although her husband gave the painting to the National Gallery of Art in 1999, she lived with the picture hanging in her home until her own death in March 2014.
lower right: Vincent / Arles 89
Sent 2 May 1889 by the artist to his brother, Theo van Gogh, Paris [1857-1891]; his widow, Joanna van Gogh-Bonger [1862-1925], Amsterdam; their son, Vincent Willem van Gogh [1890-1978], Amsterdam; gift to Emile Bernard [1868-1941]; sold January 1899 to (Ambroise Vollard, Paris); sold probably 1899 to Cornelis Hoogendijk [1866-1911], Amsterdam; by inheritance to his sister, Maria Ida Adriana (Riet) van Blaaderen-Hoogendijk [1874-1942, Mrs. Gerrit Willem van Blaaderen], The Hague; her son, Tom van Blaaderen [1910-1950], Laren; his wife, Hermanna F. van Blaaderen-van Geuns [1915-2002, later Mrs. Warren-van Geuns], Loenen aan de Vecht, in 1951. Private collection, London. (Marlborough Fine Arts, London), in 1955; probably acquired there by Sir Alexander Korda [1893-1956], London; by inheritance to his third wife, Alexandra Boycun Korda [1928-1966, later Mrs. David Metcalfe]; (Korda collection sale, Sotheby’s, London, 14 June 1962, no. 22); purchased by (Charles H. Willis), probably for Paul Mellon [1907-1999], Upperville, Virginia; bequest 1999 to NGA, with life interest to his wife, Rachel Lambert Mellon [1910-2014].
- Loan to display with the permanent collection, Stedelijkmuseum, Amsterdam, 1906-1911, no. 984d in 1911 catalogue.
- Dutch Art 1450-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929, no. 464.
- Loan Exhibition, Stedelijkmuseum, Amsterdam, 1929, no. 10.
- Vincent Van Gogh en zijn Tijdgenoten, Stedelijkmuseum, Amsterdam, 1930, no. 60.
- Vincent Van Gogh, 1853-1890: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, Tate Gallery, London; Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery; Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, 1947-1948, no. 65, as Still-Life with Lemons and Blue Gloves.
- XIXth and XXth Century French Masters, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London, 1955, no. 79, repro.
- French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, no. 134, repro.
- Faille, J.-B. de la. L'Oeuvre de Vincent Van Gogh, catalogue raisonné. 4 vols. Paris and Brussels, 1928: 1:no. 502; 2:repro.
- Rutter, Frank and Helen Comstock. "Van Gogh in 1929: Europe and America." International Studio 93 (June 1929): 38-41, repro.
- Knapp, Fritz. Vincent Van Gogh. Leipzig, 1930: 41, pl. 31.
- Faille, J.-B. de la. Vincent Van Gogh. New York and Paris, 1939: 372, no. 525, repro.
- James, Philip. Van Gogh (1853-1890). London, 1948: cover repro., 14, pl. 7.
- Gogh, Vincent van. The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh. Edited by Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. 3 vols. London, 1958: 3:126, letter 573.
- The Burlington Magazine 104, no. 710 (May 1962): n.p., repro.
- French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966: repro. no. 134
- Uitert, Evert van. "Van Gogh's Concept of His Oeuvre." Simiolus 12, no. 4 (1981-1982): 241-242, fig. 14.
- Henkels, Herbert. "Cézanne en Van Gogh in het Rijksmuseum voor Moderne Kunst in Amsterdam: de collectie van Cornelis Hoogendijk (1866-1911)." Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 41, no. 3-4 (1993): 227, 228 fig. 102, 292.
- Klusmann, Georg. Vincent van Gogh: Still Life with Peonies. Mainburg, 1996: 44.
- Feilchenfeldt, Walter. Vincent van Gogh: The Years in France, Complete Paintings 1886-1890. London, 2013: 131, repro., as Oranges, Lemons and Blue Gloves.
- Kelly, Franklin. "A Lasting Legacy: The Completion of an Unparalleled Gift." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 51 (Fall 2014): 14, repro.