Research point: Van Gogh pen and ink drawing

Olive Trees – how the marks are used


Olive Trees, Vincent van Gogh, pen and ink on paper, 1888, Musee des Beaux Arts

  • Single contour lines are used for the ground shapes – rock and slopes.
  • Stippling using both points and dashes and hatching with short lines shows the low vegetation. The direction changes from area to area indicate that this is not a smooth manicured lawn but a wilder landscape. Hatching with intermittent, longer lines indicates taller grasses.
  • The leaves of the olive trees are created with swirling parallel lines indicating movement and breeze. These lines tell us loud and clear that we are looking at a natural, organic landscape.
  • The tree trunks use more intense hatching that runs round the trunk rather than up or down.
  • Throughout, areas of shadow are indicated by denser use of the ink, e.g. in the middle of the coppice to the left.
  • Areas of rock are left white.
  • The sky and some areas of the rock in shadow use a blended tonal effect whereby the individual lines are not visible.
  • The direction of the lines makes a lot of difference. Overall they seem to run up from the bottom left to the top right making this picture feel alive and uplifting. The parallel lines midway down on the right running ‘against the grain’ could be a stream. The directional placing of these lines makes them feel anchored to the ground.

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