Long Grass with Butterflies

Van Gogh was a patient at the asylum at St-Rémy, near Arles, from May 1889 to May 1890. During this time he was restricted to working in the asylum's grounds, and shortly after his arrival he described the 'abandoned gardens' in which 'the grass grows tall and unkempt, mixed with all kinds of weeds'. This view of these gardens was painted at the end of the painter's stay at the asylum.

Personal response: Michael Wilson
Author Michael Wilson recounts a story about Van Gogh's painting - 1 min 46 secs
Transcription

Michael Wilson: Well, the story about this work doesn’t reflect too well on the Gallery because in 1965 a schoolgirl was visiting the Gallery with a party from her school and she made a beeline to the Van Goghs – he was her favourite artist – and she discovered that this picture was hanging upside down. Now looking at it you can see it’s a very abstract work even for Van Gogh; there’s no horizon line, the whole surface is really… shows an area of grass and garden. It’s very vigorously painted, not at all naturalistically painted and so it’s understandable that a mistake like this could have been made, but it was a 15-year-old school girl who spotted it, and she went off to the Chief Attendant’s office, knocked on his door and told him that she’d found that one of the Van Gogh’s was hanging upside down. He was rather dismissive, it has to be said. He responded by saying ‘well, how do you know’, and they had to actually go and find a postcard of the picture to compare it with what was on the wall before he was convinced.

I think there might have been a bit of dispute then, you know, which way to hold the postcard, but another attendant, who was in the room, came to her defence and said ‘I think she’s got a point, I think it’s right’. And it turns out that it had been taken off the wall that morning for photography and when the working party came to put it back, they put it back the wrong way up. How long it would have stayed like that had the girl not spotted it, we don’t know, but it’s a rather amusing tale.

From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Twenty Four, October 2008

Key facts

Artist
Artist dates
1853 - 1890
Full title
Long Grass with Butterflies
Date made
1890
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
64.5 x 80.7 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1926
Inventory number
NG4169
Location in Gallery

Further information

In depth