Rarely animals

Van Gogh almost never includes animals in his compositions. He is more interested in the people who work the land than the animals they rear to pull their machinery. He very rarely makes them the independent subject of study, as in this depiction of a red and white ox hitched in front of a cart.

Displaced impression

When Van Gogh develops a motif, he takes his cues from what he sees in his immediate surroundings, but also from the examples of painters he admires. In this work, he refers to Oxcart on a country road by Anton Mauve. But unlike Mauve’s ox, without a natural background this animal makes a somewhat displaced impression. Van Gogh probably regards this yoked animal primarily as an important attribute of the peasant, even though he omits the figure himself.

Reddish brown tones

The animal’s boniness and coloured hide offer him the opportunity to experiment with light-dark contrasts and to vary the reddish brown tones. Together with this work, he also makes a study of a black ox in a mirrored composition. In contrast to the red and white ox, Van Gogh places its counterpart in the countryside surrounded by birds.