Treasure in a clay jar – 4 June 2018

Here in this picture of Oleanders, the artist (Van Gogh, 1888) displays his love of flowers. They are life affirming and joyous. They spill across the space of the painting, the blooms so heavy that they seem precarious on the edge of the table. The softness of the flowers, in pinks and flesh colours, is contrasted with the spiky green leaves, each outlined in black. The liveliness in the painting comes in part from the juxtaposition of contrasting colours; red and green, yellow and violet. On the table next to the flowers are two books, one La Joie de Vivre, by Emile Zola (1883). The heroine of this novel is a young girl/woman whose optimism and openheartedness bring life to a town. Van Gogh uses the book title to make a comment about both the flowers and his painting.

The branches of oleander blooms are arranged in an earthenware jug. This is essential to the sense of the picture, the flowers need to be sitting in a vase. It is also essential to the visual image, the solid shape anchoring the flowers in the space. The picture is about the oleander and the life they bring, not the clay jug, but nevertheless the jug is necessary for this life to be seen. It is a still life in which the ordinary and the glorious are held together. It offers a metaphor for how things can be for us.


But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

2 Corinthians 4:7

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.

Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part:

Praise in the common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed,
However small and mean.

Fill every part of me with praise;
Let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord,
Poor though I be and weak.

So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.

Horatius Bonar