Olive Trees

by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

The self-imposed regimen of asylum life gave van Gogh a hard-won stability: “I feel happier here with my work than I could be outside. By staying here a good long time, I shall have learned regular habits and in the long run the result will be more order in my life.” While his time at Saint-Rémy forced him to manage his vices, such as coffee, alcohol, poor eating habits and periodic attempts to consume turpentine and paint, his stay was not ideal. He needed to obtain permission to leave the asylum grounds. The food was poor; he generally ate only bread and soup. His only apparent form of treatment were two-hour baths twice a week. The Olive Trees is believed to resemble the olive grove outside of the asylum.

Judges 9:8-15

8The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honored,
and go to sway over the trees?’
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us.’
11 But the fig tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?’
12 Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come and reign over us.’
13 But the vine said to them,
‘Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?’
14 So all the trees said to the weeds,
‘You come and reign over us.’
15 And the weeds said to the trees,
‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the weeds
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

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