… The two opposed schemes, the convergent and the concentric … penetrate each other in details of color and line …
This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about Landscape with Ploughed Fields painted in 1889:
A landscape with two centers: the observer’s viewpoint, indicated by the violet furrows converging hurriedly to a point behind the dark trees at the left horizon, and accompanied by rushing streams of contrasted, colored strokes in the field; the second is the great sun at the right, with its concentric rings of yellow and orange strokes, reaching beyond the horizon and the frame, and complementary to the violet tones of the other vista and to the blues in the mountains below.
In this rivalry of centers we feel some relation to human conflict, a tension between the self and its goals. It has also a pictorial value as a dynamic means of expression and design. The two opposed schemes, the convergent and the concentric, are broken and varied, and penetrate each other in details of color and line, which also intensify the living reality of the scene. An irregular diagonal path moves across the field, cutting the main furrows and anticipating in the observer’s foreground space the rhythms of the distant shadows and hills. These long wavy forms are in turn contrasted with the straight lines of the enclosing wall.
With all these vigorous oppositions, the color is of an enchanting subtlety. Van Gogh has accepted the magic of sunrise coloring as a model and a source, and tried to capture its variations and poetic suggestiveness in pigment tones. In the yellow-green foreground field, he introduces long violet strips in the furrows and smaller touches of green and purplish reds play against violet and blue.
[line break added] And in the sky, within the prevailing luminosity, yellow gives way, at the sides, to cooler tones. Throughout, the color retains a woven texture; it is a continuous interplay of tiny contrasts and possesses, besides the energy of flashing points, the dynamism of great currents of colored particles moving in a single direction, varied from object to object, from region to region of the space.
Vincent van Gogh, Landscape with Ploughed Fields, 1889