Irises is one of the first canvases painted on Van Gogh’s arrival in Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery following a voluntary admission. This work is among the 150 created by the painter during his stay in Saint-Rémy between May 1889 and May 1990. May is iris season in Provence and those blooms that bring color to the monastery nestled at the foot of the Alpilles inspire Vincent.

According to the Getty Museum that holds the work, Vincent considered this work a study. A funny thing since the painting became the most expensive painting in the world in 1987 during an auction organized by Sotheby’s in London: the buyer, an Australian business man and art collector Alan Bond, bid up to 54 million dollars, a sum never before spent on a painting.


Van Gogh’s Irises

Painted in Saint-Rémy de Provence, Irises is one of Van Gogh’s most reproduced paintings. First and foremost, this affecting canvas evokes a necessary relationship to painting for an artist in search of healing. Here’s the story behind a cult painting.

By Caroline Taret - Photos DR - 17 Mai 2013

Culture and Fashion

After defaulting on the payment, Sotheby’s turned to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for a resale that became official in 1990.

The composition of the painting is very powerful: the irises appear like characters, unveiling their petals drawn in yellow and purplish-blue colors, and their impressive stalk, whose fineness nevertheless reveals enough strength to support the flower. An homage to Japanese paintings that Vincent appreciated and that he was inspired by during the last years of his life: Japanese woodcuts from the 17th to 19th centuries. His brother Theo was not mistaken either since he decided to exhibit the work at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris in September 1889. He wrote to his brother the impact of “the study” as much as its beauty “full of air and life.”

Lorem ipsum dolor


Its first owner, a friend of Van Gogh’s called Octave Mirbeau, was also moved by the precision of the representation of this pretty Provençale flower.

A welcome touch of nature in this compulsion to paint that Van Gogh was experimenting with and that took on more and more importance during his internment in Saint-Rémy de Provence, during which his doctor permitted him a few excursions. Vincent appreciated the local nature more and more for its diversity as much as for its light so typical of the region. Cherry and almond trees, fields of flowers would be Van Gogh’s favorite subjects in this last year of his life, next to portraits of his friends like the famous Doctor Gachet sketched in Auvers-sur-Oise just before his premature death.





Irises, probably one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, with The Starry Night, is a masterpiece so often represented, a sort of icon of the painter’s oeuvre produced in Provence. Other versions around this theme exist in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Today, the iris continues to dot gardens with its swaying silhouette in the onth of May. Producers cultivate it in the Hyeres region, offering up elegant fields to lucky eyes, a landscape that Van Gogh would certainly have appreciated.

Autoportrait de Van Gogh projeté aux Carrières de Lumière aux Baux de Provence - Photographie de José Nicolas Photographie de José Nicolas

Autoportrait de Van Gogh projeté aux Carrières de Lumière aux Baux de Provence - Photographie José Nicolas

Les Iris, Van Gogh (1889)
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Les Iris, Van Gogh (1889)
Getty Museum, Los Angeles