The Sower – 13 July 2020
Here is a familiar painting of a much painted subject.
A sower walks across a ploughed field at the end of the end, throwing out seed as he goes. The seed is landing in the furrows and on the path. Birds hover over the field, ready to eat what they can. The seed that finds good soil will grow to become a harvest, like the strip of wheat beneath field and sun, yet to be gathered into a barn.
The picture is painted in strips, the broadest being the field. Above this is wheat, a thin horizon, and then the sky where the sun is setting. There is a very strong and exciting contrast of colours, particularly between the chrome yellow of the sun and blue of the field. The paint has been laid very thick indeed, in great daubs that give texture.
The painting is “Sower at Sunset (after Jean-Francois Millet)” by Vincent Van Gogh. He painted this subject a number of times, partly in response to Realists such as Millet, and partly because he saw the sower as representing agriculture in all its traditions and hard work. Hard work in the cycle of the years was something Van Gogh valued himself as an artist, so the sower becomes every person who lives and engages with the rhythm of life with generosity.
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
Then sow the seed in every field,
And grace will bring the golden yield;
We soon shall sing the joyful song,
And shout the blessed harvest home.
D S Warner 1911