"Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun" was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, the year in which he interred himself in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum to seek treatment for the mental illness that had plagued him his whole life. During this time he produced some of his most memorable works, many of which display his characteristic swirling brush strokes and vivid colors. Both of these elements are on full display in "Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun."
The painting is almost entirely composed of short, bold brush strokes, which follow the contours of the various subjects in the painting. The lines composing the foliage of the trees wave in tight curves, suggesting the texture of both the leaves and the scaffolding of branches underneath. The rise and fall of the golden hills are marked by short brush strokes, with the shadows of the trees flowing over their humps and valleys. Pale, subtle lines illustrate the contours of the mountains far in the background. Above it all, the sun is surrounded by brush strokes that radiate out in a halo, mimicking the glow of the sun on a hazy autumn afternoon. These lines give the painting movement and life. They also create a sort of tactile feel—the brush strokes evoke a sense of texture, as if the viewer could reach out and touch the ridges of the painting. One can almost feel the grass on the hills, or the bark on the olive trees.
The use of color is striking as well. Yellows and oranges dominate, again conjuring an atmosphere of autumn. The pale blues of the shadows mingle with the golden hues of the grass and echo the subdued greens and blues of the olive leaves, creating a flow of color for the eye to follow. The shadows also mark the setting of the painting as afternoon, when the sun shines golden and shadows are long. The blues of the mountains, delicately enriched with lavender strokes, create a sense of depth. Overall, the cool shades of the trees, shadows, and mountains create a fine balance with the richness of the gold of the hills and the clear yellows of the sky.
This painting is marked by balance in form and value as well as color. The gentle waves and circles of the trees, shadows, hills and sun are grounded by the more angular shapes of the tree trunks and distant mountains. While many of the colors in the painting are lighter in hue, the gold of the grass and especially the umber tones of the trunks and hills add dimension and clarity.
This painting conjures both a sense of peace and touch of drama. Van Gogh’s masterful use of color and evocative brushwork draw the viewer into the painting, adding depth and texture to the scene. "Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun" brings together all these elements to create a rich, inviting glimpse at a lazy fall afternoon long ago.