Good for still lifes

Van Gogh has a considerable collection of birds’ nests. In early August 1885, he sends his duplicate nests to his friend Anthon van Rappard: ‘I thought you might like the birds’ nests as I do, because the birds – like the wren or golden oriole – can also truly be counted among the artists. At the same time they’re good for still lifes’.

Tonal study

Almost two months later, he actually starts working on this theme. During that period, he writes to his brother that he ‘feel[s] for the brood and the nests – particularly those human nests, those cottages on the heath and their inhabitants’, and that with some painters ‘all reality is at the same time symbolic’. Nevertheless, for him this still life is primarily a tonal study.

Three nests

The nest on the left is probably that of a wren, the small round nest in the middle may belong to a small songbird, such as a finch or a goldfinch. The nest on the right with the eggs could be from a song thrush or a golden oriole. The oriole builds its nest in this way at the end of a branch. The size of the eggs is also appropriate for these birds.