Simultaneous contrasts

Van Gogh’s constant focus on improving his painting technique is given an extra boost in the spring of 1884. This is when he reads in a book by the French art theorist Charles Blanc about ‘the law of simultaneous contrast’: colours may reinforce or, conversely, diminish each other, depending on the combinations in which they are applied. 

Colour experiments

Van Gogh begins his own colour experiments and discovers that he does indeed want to work from nature, but not necessarily using the exact natural colours. When he paints trees with yellow leaves in an autumn landscape, it doesn’t matter if his yellow is not the same as the yellow of the leaves.


What it comes down to is ‘my sense of the infinite variety of tones in the same family’. He visualizes this insight in this Autumn landscape; a symphony in orange-brown of a few trees behind the garden of his parental home in Nuenen. Delighted, he writes to Theo: ‘The laws of colour are inexpressibly splendid precisely because they are not coincidences’.