Painted during a stay with his parents in 1885, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Snow is marked by muted and bleak color and tone. Vincent Van Gogh worked very quickly outdoors for much of his work and this is shown here by the sketchy quality of the forms depicted.
This sketchiness helps to show both immediacy between observation and the notation of picture-making and the vigor of the work of his figure just off-centre. The figure is is leaning and moving toward the middle of the frame as he stoops to the strenuous work of sweeping or digging.
The colors of the figure, browns and black, are matched by those of his surroundings, especially the wood of the trees and the posts of the left foreground. Therefore the person is set in the pastoral landscape as a part of it, as a similar object of natural curiosity. Perhaps the artist and the viewer are separated from him in the relation of ‘observer/observed’.
On the other hand, in the context of Van Gogh’s recurring mental illness, the bleakness of the picture’s colors and tones could be seen as an allegory of his struggle with illness. The figure then becoming, through his labor an heroic character clearing the path to clarity and health.
Vincent Van Gogh’s The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Snow can be found at the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles