Tuesday, August 31, 2010

pollard willows

Pollard Willows with Setting Sun, Vincent van Gogh, 1888
Pollard Willows, Vincent van Gogh
letter sketch, October 1881

For my second offering in the "Willow in Art" series, Vincent van Gogh, in the same manner as Monet, also did a series of willow pieces. Most were done in the 1880's, inspired by the pollard willows that grew in and around Etten, the small village in the south of The Netherlands, where van Gogh started his career as an artist. I wasn't quite sure exactly what a "pollard willow" was, and after Googling, learned it was simply a willow which had been severely cut back, to promote growth. I have to admit, these poor pollard willows have definitely been hacked back. I didn't recognize them without their graceful branches, but they certainly were a marvelously quirky inspiration for the brilliant van Gogh.

Pollard Willows, Vincent van Gogh, 1889
Don't you love the textures here?

Pollard Willows, letter to Theo, August 1, 1882
(click to enlarge)

I absolutely adore hand illustrated correspondence. This particular willow piece graces a letter to Van Gogh's brother, Theo,1882. If you enjoy the art of letter writing, I highly recommend Illustrated Letters, Artists and Writers Correspond, edited by Roselyne de Ayala and Jean-Pierre Gueng, a wonderful book, with over 60 full color spreads of reproductions of delightful letters and doodles by artists and writers from the 19th and 20th centuries. I hate to think the lovely art of hand written correspondence is quickly becoming a thing of the past. It's high time to resurrect the habit before it's too late, don't you think?

Pollard Willow, Vincent van Gogh, watercolor, July 27, 1882


  1. poor chopped off trees. but fascinating finds for the Willow theme. When I first met my ex-husband now deceased, it was in '67 san Francisco, and he was an artist. The letters he wrote to his friends were filled with sketches. I too adore this sketch/letter combo. Thanks for the book title even though I now must stop buying books after having done my financial accounting for the last year.

  2. PS re: yes. Did you know that Yoko Ono at one of her early american shows which John L. attended, had a ladder in the middle of the room. On the ceiling was a small bit of paper. You had to climb the ladder to see what was written on the paper. It was YES

  3. Suki, back in my art school days, I used to decorate my letters with quirky sketches and doodles, as well. I think it's time to resurrect the charming habit, don't you?

    LOVE the YES!! Yoko certainly got that right!

  4. ooops, I was wrong about the Yoko Ono show. It took place in London in 1966 and it was where John and Yoko first met (according to the site i looked this more accurate info up on).

  5. I recently came across your post and read it. After reading it I felt I should admire your hard work so just wanna say very well written. Good on you.

  6. Pollarding is still fairly widely practiced hereabouts. My grandfather, a woodsman, was a master of the craft. He was also a talented painter but, rarely painted scenes from his own livelihood. Strange eh?

  7. I do agree with your comments about the Van Gogh letters. I remember once buying the collected letters in translation as a birthday present for my brother (me Theo, you Vince kind of thing) starting to read them before I wrapped the book up and not being able to put it down I bought him something else instead.

  8. Willow, absolutely gorgeous post!
    I love these earlier Van Gogh works.....and like you and Suki, love art (be it paintings, sketches, poems, musical scores - whatever) which has comments posted - from the author - on them... so warm - and open.

    Off to the second "Aida" rehearsal tonight...hoping to "sneak" some photos of set etc.....


    ♥ Robin ♥

  9. Alan, I thought I was the only one who is known to buy gifts, then end up having to give something else, because I can't bear to part with it!

    Robin, I'm so looking forward to all the Aida scuttlebutt!

  10. These are great examples of van Gogh’s drawing and paintings of the willows. Thank you for sharing…
    The illustrated letters I think for most are a thing of the past. Most want a bigger audience. Putting words and illustrations together in blogs may be the replacement.

  11. Do you have something to do with the MAGPIE site? If so How the heck does one "link" there?

  12. Oh poor sad looking willows. Kind of fitting for Van Gogh I imagine. I love to receive a letter and it's been ages. I do still write to some elderly aunts who do not email and I enjoy it but alas, I don't like my handwriting. I would LOVE to receive a letter with doodles........can't draw either.

  13. Lane, I just left a comment on your blog with instructions on how to link to Magpie Tales. Let me know if that does the trick.

  14. The pollard willows are interesting idea fodder, but they look bare and sad.

  15. Oh what's not to love
    I must get to writing letters again
    this time include drawings...could be fun

  16. the first one has such vibrant colors...it appeals to me...and the letter to theo...can you imagine getting letters like that...you know the person took a lot of time just to say something to you...special...

  17. Interesting post. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, and I especially liked the illustrated letters here.

    BTW, my emails are often illustrated; I have a habit of embedding my photos or other image files I've found and wanted to pass on into my emails. So the art survives into the cyber-centuries.

  18. Pollarding is a big thing in France. They love to control nature, but have little idea how to organise it. I have the book of ALL VVG's letters to his brother, Theo. Wonderful illustrations. Sadly the net has deprived us of such things.

  19. Cro, since you and Alan have mentioned a book containing all VG's letters to Theo, I've got to find it now! I'm off to my fabulous, award winning, Columbus Public Library site, to order one sent to my local branch....

  20. If I could express my thoughts visually even close to that, I would be so happy.

    What a joy to see!

  21. That's my kind of book - will definitely check it out.

    And enjoyed the post. The first time I ever saw Van Gogh's work in a gallery, I thought I might as well go home because it's a disappointment to look at any other painting after his!

  22. Oh, Willow--this post is just beautiful. It took my breath away.

  23. Dear Willow, This posting, together with so many of yours, reminds me of things I had forgotten about. Today, I am back in love with Van Gogh

  24. That first picture is wonderfully vibrant, Willow! The trees look more like old vines don't they?

  25. i have never seen these pieces of van gogh, a wonderful treat- as for the hacking back - that is done in this area every year on the mulberry trees - which gives the same effect to the eye...agree with the handwriting...i have been a student of handwriting analysis since i can remember...it simply fancinates me...enjoy...bkm

  26. Some of my favs here.The willows are pollarded to make material for weaving and fencing.The regrowth happens fairly quickly.While it might upset some it's an old skill, doesn't kill the willow and are you upset about the disappearance of the rain forests too?

  27. It helps to be multi-lingual then one instantly realise that those willows are not hacked about like street trees to keep them from interfering with overhead wires but to provide willow wands for basket weaving.
    In German they are called 'Korb Weide' or basket willow. There were no cardboard boxes in those days and baskets were the order of the day.
    I have of course got Vincet's letters to Theo but not an illustrated version. Thank you for making me aware of this one, I will order it straight away.
    Great post Willow. I have always Loved Vincent's work.

    In our family illustrated letters are the norm rather than the exception.

  28. These are all beautiful van Goghs, and so different from one another.

    I have always loved hand written correspondence, and adding my doodles and sketches to them. There's nothing better than getting an envelope in the mailbox from my daughter with her creativity "enveloping" the envelope, with magazine snippets, calligraphy, cartoons and sketches.

  29. Arija, about every 10 years, maybe less, they hack up a line of trees on our property, that grow beneath utility lines. Just as soon as the beautiful huge walnut recovers, they buzz off the top half, straight across. It makes me nuts.

    I would love to see a sample of your family's illustrated correspondence. You should post some on your blog!

  30. Willow songs, poems and paintings? I see a book pulling itself together here. Fabulous book, should say.

    Hey I think I've figured out who my date will be this year to the Ball. Now for the dress ... hmmmmm

  31. I love the art but it is the book you mentioned that has really caught my eye and imagination. I would love this book, it looks like magic to me. Illustrated letters - I think we need to do this but hardly anyone writes letters these days.

  32. Willow, I love this post! I've never seen any of these Van Gogh works I don't think. He certainly was interested in its shape to have painted it so many different ways. I think the first is my favorite. I like the childish way the sun's rays mimic the chopped branches. It's almost like the two are celebrating one another.

    I've got to find a copy of that book! Thanks for the recommendation.

  33. I love this second entry in the Willow Art Series, especially the illustrated letter, a great idea that I agree does beg for revival.

    PS- Re your comment about "My Hero" on my blog...good eye. You hit the nail on the proverbial head!

  34. Thank you Willow I loved the post! Van Gogh is always just right, to see his work, is always a "renewable" experience, as if for the first time. Love it!

  35. A engaging and beautifully artistic post, Willow. The Van Gogh pieces are extraordinary, you are so right - the texture of the colour, quite breathtaking.

    I had never heard of the practice of pollarding willow trees. It sounds awfully cruel, but I suppose it served some pragmatic purpose and those de-branched beauties certainly were a great inspiration to many an artist :)

  36. Beautiful Van Gogh's!

    I have a basket-weaver friend who grows several rows of basket willow in her large garden to provide weaving material. It makes wonderful strong baskets.

  37. Fascinating! So different form his contemporaries, his form and colors smack you right in the eye.

  38. I've always loved Van Gogh... both his paintings, and his story.

    If I were rich enough to own an original, I'd probably ruin its value by constantly touching it to feel the "textures" you mentioned!

  39. Before I read your post, I immediately recognized Van Gogh's thick, directional strokes, etc...I've not seen these before, and they're wonderful. Thanks for sharing them!

  40. I've just started 'attending' your blog regularly and what a lot of goodies I find! You have certainly illustrated an artist's 'eye'. A pollarded willow has never looked attractive to me before. Are YOU pollarded?

  41. Thanks for this wonderful piece about Vincent and the willow; he is a favorite of mine. then again all the Impressionist are.

    Moon smiles

  42. Since childhood, the willow tree has been my absolute favorite. But those poor pollards....well, poor pollards!

    I love how your teach with your posts! My day ends well with this learning!


  43. Willow,
    At first glance I read your title as Pollard Pillows and thought: what beautiful pillows.
    The way they prune the willow in the Netherlands reminds me of how they prune the "plain" trees (sycamores) that line so many boulevards in France.

    I would be delighted to rekindle hand written letter writig with you:
    an Address would make it easier. ;)

  44. That first Van Gogh with the setting sun is glorious isn't it!? The sad thing about letter writing for me is that I find it physically difficult to write by hand now. I suppose it's a sort of laziness which has developed since emailing became the norm, but my hand writing has certainly gone to the dogs.

  45. I love Van Gogh and his playfulness with extreme colors and textures. A brilliant artist.

  46. Pollard willows! I always wondered what those chopped off trees were in Vincent's paintings. And the decorated letters are indeed charming!

  47. Yes, yes, coming late to the party
    I am very drawn to your WILLOW IN
    ART series, picking up on the last
    one prior to this too. It fills me with
    a need to do my own research on
    willow trees in art. Your enthusiasm
    and passion are that infectious.
    But now I will have to have the
    patience to let you have the
    lead, and just enjoy your research.
    Pollarding, or pruning, seems to
    be a tough love affair. They do it
    with horned beasts, from oxen to
    rhinos too. It always saddens me
    to prune my trees and bushes,
    but they look sad for a time, and
    then burst back to life, even
    greener, even fuller than before.

  48. Thanks for linking back to friend'
    Lane Savant, and sharing how to
    become a Magpie. Odd that he
    is encountering such difficulties.
    And as with so many others,
    thanks for dropping by my site
    and making your colorful
    comments. Do you have a
    Facebook page?

  49. I forgot the vibrancy of his colors in this piece as well as always loving his energy. I also learned "pollard willows". The willow theme continues!

  50. Van Gogh has long been a sterling
    theme for films, as well you know.
    So for those movie buff magpies,
    dig up

    LUST FOR LIFE (1956)
    Director Vincente Minnelli
    Van Gogh: Kirk Douglas.

    VAN GOGH (1948)
    Director Alain Renais
    Documentary that won Oscar in 1950.,
    Narrator Claude Dauphin.

    VAN GOGH (1969)
    Director Thomas Fantil
    German TVM
    Van Gogh: Herbert Fleischmann

    Director Veli-Matti Saikkonen
    Finland TVM
    Van Gogh: Timo Torikka

    VINCENT & THEO (1990)
    Director Robert Altman
    Van Gogh: Tim Roth

    DREAMS (1990)
    Director Akira Kurosawa
    Van Gogh: Martin Scorsese

    VAN GOGH (1991)
    Director Maurice Pialat
    Van Gogh: Jacques Dutronic

    DR WHO (2010)
    Episode "Vincent and the Doctor"
    Van Gogh: Tony Curran

    My personal favorites:
    1. Tim Roth
    2. Martin Scorsese
    3. Tony Curran

  51. I wanted to add that my
    grandfather, Earl Melbourne
    Carpenter, who was a
    landscape artist, often
    referred to as "Sky Carpenter"
    often drew sketches on
    his personal letters, and
    I treasure them all. He passed
    away in 1986, and I have
    missed him every day since.

  52. I have one friend I still write letters to, the rest is text adn email now. I have kept all hers over the past few years, its lovely to read back. Must write more.
    I love the letter sketches you've posted, more than the paintings. (I was just looking at my van gogh book last night... )The idea of a pollard willow is interesting, as a metaphor for a creative state too isnt it?

  53. How I would adore to receive hand illustrated letters in the mail! Such a lovely way to communicate...

    I never heard of pollarding willows before...VanGogh does find the beauty in them...

  54. Glen, Kirk Douglas looked amazingly like van Gogh in Lust for Life. I think it's actually a pretty good movie for the time period. I'll have to add a few of these others to my Netflix queue. Thanks for this illustrious list! Martin Scorsese played van Gogh? No way!!

    (my Facebook page is posted on my sidebar)

  55. Dear Willow: The Pollard Willow; must be a metaphor for Vincent's truncated life; cut down due to his extreme artist's sensitivity and (I believe)Epileptic caused depression in his prime ten years later. The moving and emotive painterly style of Van Gogh crosses the threshold from impressionism to Gauguin's Les Fauve or "wild beast". I was given The Letters of Van Gogh by my best friend Jayne way back in the day (early 80's). The book became a theatre production with Leonard Nimoy who played Theo, Vincent's brother at Theatre London, Ont. Luckily I got to see this production! I still think that guy from House(Hugh Laurie) would make an excellent Van Gogh.

  56. What beautiful images! This is a great series.

  57. Beautiful collection of willow images!

    I know those willows well, they line brooks and marsh meadows in the region I spent my childhood. Some of those willow trunk were hollow, large enough so we could hide in them. We also liked to collect the dark rich soil from the bottom of these hollow trunks.

  58. Aww...I love the letter to Theo!

  59. I've never really understood the pollarding of trees, Under hydro lines I could see. Even today on the Champs Elysees, pollard chestnuts. Their roots must be deeper, feistier. I'd be if some one pollarded me.

  60. Beautiful yellow. And the hand written illustrated correspondence? (swoon)

  61. I can't tell you how privileged I feel coming here.
    I learn each and every time, comments included.

    thank you willow. truly.

  62. I've never seen these Van Goghs and true to form, I like them as much if not more than the famous ones. Thank you for sharing such lovely works!

    Here in the South they do a similar hack job on the crepe myrtles, even though experts say it's not needed (it's "crepe murder").

  63. J.G., crepe myrtle murder, indeed! (I'm such a Lorax)

  64. I'm currently reading the Van Gogh biography by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. On page 267 Van Gogh explains how he looked at it: "One must draw a pollard willow as if it were a living being." I think this is exactly what makes his still lifes and landscapes so unique – this, the colors he chose and the thick layers of paint, which make those trees seem to move.

    Arjan van Dijk, Leiden (NL)


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)