Effects of opposition

‘The olive tree is variable like our willow or pollard in the north’, writes Van Gogh to his brother. ‘The effect of daylight, of the sky, means that there is an infinity of subjects to be drawn from the olive tree.’ In Olive grove with two olive pickers, he is in search of ‘some effects of opposition between the changing foliage and the tones of the sky’.


In contrast to Van Gogh, Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin paint highly stylized, religious subjects during this period. Van Gogh writes that ‘nothing is observed’ in these works and they have ‘driven me mad’. According to him, you can convey deeply felt sentiments just as well with an everyday motif, depicted in carefully chosen colours.

Laid down loosely

Olive grove with two olive pickers is created when he goes ‘messing about’ in the orchards again on ‘bright and cold days, but in very beautiful, clear sunshine’. The work, with its orange-yellow and green sky, is laid down rather loosely. The red underpainting remains visible in the contours of the trees and the figure in the foreground. In a later session, Van Gogh covers some of the red clouds with greenish-yellow brushstrokes.