For the past couple of days I have been working on the view of Vidauban from our terrace. It is a wonderful view, with the church cradled in the middle of the village which is surrounded by hills. In the background are distant mountains, their colours ranging from green blue to blue to violet depending on the light. I am looking forward to painting this scene many times at different times of day and in different seasons.
This particular painting is of Vidauban mid-morning. The sun has warmed up the buildings and is catching the tree tops on the hillsides. The predominant colours are cream, terracotta, blue and greens. Unusually for me I painted the canvas with an undercoat of terracotta to cover up an earlier composition. (I had run out of canvases – this was the only one available.) However, I think the undercoat works well in contrasting with the greens. I struggled a bit to begin with in the placing of the colours and I felt rather down but I think they are beginning to come together now. If a painting doesn’t seem to be working I do get very depressed about it and doubt my ability even more than usual. However, I am reminded of Van Gogh’s words:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘I cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Yesterday was a fête day in Vidauban, celebrating the liberation of the town by the Americans on 16th August 1944 following occupation by the Italians and then the Germans during the Second World War. A parade of old military vehicles took place in the afternoon, followed by commemorative services at different spots around the town, and the handing out of flags and sweets to children. In the evening a “grand bal” took place in the central square in front of the mairie. The cafés and restaurants surrounding the square were thronged with people eating and drinking, whilst on the temporary stage a band of 7 musicians and 4 singers performed music spanning the decades. A stall, gay with pink awning, was selling candy floss and brightly coloured sweets to queues of children, in the centre of the square people were dancing; old men and women, families, teenagers, children, couples. Everyone moved or swayed to the music, with a rhythm that seems to come naturally to most French people. Particularly popular as always at these occasions was that old favourite, the Madison.
On my way down to the bal I walked past a boules court, floodlit and full of players. The lamps seemed to be surrounded by halos, and I was reminded of the Van Gogh painting “Starry Night over the Rhone”. Van Gogh was fascinated by the night sky and the effects of light at night and he preferred to paint them out-of-doors under gas lamp, which was new to that era. I hope to attempt these subjects myself, at some point in the future.
Today I finished a painting of a lovely old olive tree growing on the hillside behind us. I very much enjoyed doing this painting as I love olive trees which for me symbolise Provence. I tackled the leaves in a slightly different way to usual, painting them individually in shades of silvery blue, rather than in my usual rather impressionistic loose manner. During the course of the painting I came across the following passage written by Van Gogh in a letter to this brother Theo, in which he describes very eloquently the changing colours of the olive trees across the seasons.
“The effect of daylight and the sky means there are endless subjects to be found in olive trees. For myself I look for the contrasting effects in the foliage, which changes with the tones of the sky. At times, when the tree bares its pale blossoms and big blue flies, emerald fruit beetles and cicadas in great numbers fly about, everything is immersed in pure blue. Then, as the bronzer foliage takes on more mature tones, the sky is radiant and streaked with green and orange, and then again, further into autumn, the leaves take on violet tones something of the colour of a ripe fig, and this violet effect manifests itself most fully with the contrast of the large, whitening sun within its pale halo of light lemon. Sometimes, too, after a shower I’ve seen the whole sky pink and orange, which gave an exquisite value and colouring to the silvery grey-greens. And among all this were women, also pink, who were gathering the fruit.”
Whilst obviously no Van Gogh, I feel very happy that I too am able to experience the changing seasons of Provence and record in paint my impressions. One cloud on the horizon at present however, is that I cannot afford to buy more canvases and so will have to content myself with sketches in the meantime.