Saleable motif

Van Gogh goes to Paris, the art capital of the world in his time, because he seeks to develop further as an artist. But he also hopes to sell work there. The windmills of Montmartre offer an attractive and above all handy motif, as they are near to his home in rue Lepic. He devotes about twenty paintings and drawings to them.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir immortalizes the same location as a place for celebration and enjoyment in his Le Moulin de la Galette; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as a place for sometimes less than respectable rendezvous in his Au bal du Moulin de la Galette. Van Gogh treats the motif more as a picturesque, rural element.

Urge to innovate

The dark palette is still reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Dutch period. But the broad brushstrokes and fluently painted buildings and figures demonstrate an urge to innovate inspired by impressionism. The contrast between the grey-white sky and the red and ochre brown tones in the lower half appears to stem directly from Van Gogh’s experiments with complementary colours.