Series of still lifes

In the autumn of 1885, Van Gogh begins a series of still lifes featuring birds’ nests. This is an unconventional choice of motif. He writes to his brother Theo: ‘I think that some people who know nature well might like them because of the colours of the moss, dry leaves and grasses, clay &c’.


He has a collection of nests from no fewer than thirty different birds. He keeps these together with a variety of mosses, stuffed birds and other objects in two large cupboards. These are items he has collected on hiking trips over the years. He also asks boys from the neighbourhood to find birds’ nests for him, which he pays an average of 10 cents per nest for, but sometimes more for more unusual specimens, such that of the golden oriole.

Neutral background

Van Gogh deliberately paints the nests on a neutral black background to emphasize the fact that they have been removed from their natural environment. The tall, pear-shaped nest on the left and the small nest on the right may be unfinished nests of the Eurasian penduline tit. The nest in the middle belongs to a barn swallow, recognizable by its crescent shape.