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Friedman, S.M. (1999). Form and Content in van Gogh's Crows over the Wheat Field. Ann. Psychoanal., 26:259-267.

(1999). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 26:259-267

Form and Content in van Gogh's Crows over the Wheat Field

Stanley M. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D.

Certain works of art provoke an intense and continuous fascination in the mind of the viewer. This capacity seems to be related to a feeling of mystery that can impart an internal disturbance that yields a lasting haunting quality. Perhaps Leonardo's Mona Lisa is the most famous example of this quality. Another, more recent painting that has this effect is Vincent van Gogh's Crows over the Wheat Field (Figure 1), painted about two and one-half weeks before his suicide, which has been interpreted as a “communication to the world of his impending suicide” (Heiman, 1976p. 76). The fascination evoked by this work is reflected by the facts that several articles have been written about it (Schapiro, 1952; Miller, 1965; Heiman, 1976) and that it is singled out for special comment in psychobiographies of Vincent (Nagera, 1967; Lubin, 1972; Meissner, 1992). The present essay is an additional contribution and attempts, by a combination of formalistic and iconographic considerations, to add to our understanding of this disturbing picture. In this report, no further comment will be made about certain previously noted and obvious qualities of the painting, such as the crows as symbols of death, the “dead end” of the middle road, or the two-to-one proportion that stretches the horizontal vista and its perspective. Regarding the dominant and tumultuous color, along with the weakened shapes, comment is limited to noting the relationship between these qualities and ego regression. Finally, an attempt is made to synthesize form and symbolic content to achieve some degree of unified interpretation of this painting.

The issue of the relative importance of form and color in Crows is not discussed in an art historical context, such as the development of fauvism or abstract art.

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