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Miller, P.W. (1965-66). Provenience of the Death Symbolism in Van Gogh's Cornscapes. Psychoanal. Rev., 52D(4):60-66.

(1965-66). Psychoanalytic Review, 52D(4):60-66

Provenience of the Death Symbolism in Van Gogh's Cornscapes

Paul W. Miller, Ph.D.

It is only recently that the symbolic significance of Vincent van Gogh's numerous and well-known landscapes with cornfields has been recognized.1 Yet in the period from June, 1888 at Arles, where his first cornscapes were composed, to July, 1890 at Auvers-sur-Oise, where the last ones were composed shortly before his death, their symbolic development is clearly patterned even though telescoped into an astonishingly short period of time.2 For whereas his early cornscapes are responses to the beauty of nature, especially to the world of color, and almost brotherly responses to the struggling world of Man, his later cornscapes stoically represent men, van Gogh himself included, as mere stalks of grain, devoid of individuality and personality. In addition, they portray men as the victims of death, which appears in a variety of seemingly innocuous guises, for example, in the shape of a reaper, of cypresses, of crows. The strained quality of the painter's response to beauty in these later paintings points to the great effort that went into his achievement of philosophic detachment, as well as to its instability, once achieved. Only in the very last cornscapes from Auvers, does the painter's submerged longing for and horror of death clearly assert itself in anticipation of his suicide.

To understand how the painter's associations of fields, especially cornfields, with death came to dominate his earlier associations of fields with beauty and struggling humanity, one must go back to the summer of 1884, when van Gogh was staying at his father's vicarage in Nuenen.

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