Art, Art & Archives, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

Van Gogh’s Irises / Haiku Verses from Readers / An Invitation

Capturing the spirit of The Irises in over 60 beautiful haiku

The Irises in its gilded frame / Vincent van Gogh

Irises, 1889, Vincent van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 37 1/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 90.PA.20

To celebrate Vincent van Gogh, who was born on March 30, 1853, we invited visitors to share their thoughts in haiku form.

Haiku are short imagistic poems that, like Van Gogh’s paintings, capture a moment in time: sunflowers going to seed, boots untied after a day’s labor, irises blooming in a walled hospital garden. And like Van Gogh’s paintings, haiku speak to us directly and humbly. “Haiku has ‘white space’ that invites the reader to have a conversation with the poem,” Deborah P. Kolodji, haiku instructor and moderator of the Southern California Haiku Study Group, told me.

Van Gogh was drawn to Japanese art, pinning prints to his studio walls and studying them closely. As he wrote to his brother Theo in 1888, less than a year before entering the asylum where he painted The Irises:

If we study Japanese art, then we see a man, undoubtedly wise and a philosopher and intelligent, who spends his time—on what?—studying the distance from the earth to the moon?—no; studying Bismarck’s politics?—no, he studies a single blade of grass.

Haiku are usually described as three-line poems of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, but sharing a feeling, contemplating that blade of grass, is the heart of the form—not counting beats. “What’s important is to briefly capture the pure essence of the moment without adding extraneous stuff,” Deborah said.

Traditional haiku have a kigo, or “season word,” that both describes the time of year and sets the emotional tone of the poem. (In Japanese, a kireji, or “cutting word,” separates the kigo from an image or action to which it is juxtaposed.) Deborah suggested the kigo “spring melancholy,” which I love for The Irises. She shared:

one white iris

in a mass of blue
spring melancholy

Van Gogh’s single white flower calls to many of us—but everyone has a unique take on it. For visiting English teacher Ellen Knopf, it evoked not melancholy, but tongue-in-cheek battle:

arrow of purple
blossoms point toward white leader
advance on orange!

For others, The Irises is intimately bound with Van Gogh’s biography. Paintings curator Scott Allan found sadness, but also quiet hope:

in the asylum
Vincent, seeking solace, finds
irises teeming

And visitor Kristin Bader summed up what many of us feel in front of The Irises—wonder:

the more that you see
the less your mind retains, but
art is forever

Spring melancholy, solace, humor, wonder—does Van Gogh’s work say this to you? Or does it speak something that only your ear can hear?

A visitor contemplates Van Gogh's Irises in the galleries of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center

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  1. Mark Sealey
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Provence in summer;
    no! The cornflowers’ giving
    will no more heal me…

  2. Judi Walters
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Iris eyes smiling
    back at the man who sees
    more than a flower

  3. Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    March 30, 2011

    LA cloud
    frothy and gold-lined–

  4. Jack Ludden
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    search Irises now
    it is eighth in Google search
    S.E.O. is hard

  5. Rebecca Taylor
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    flowery silhouettes
    elegantly twisting in the wind
    longing personified

  6. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    fright-ning clarity
    iris blues and garden dreams
    I suffer, no more

  7. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    violet flowers
    in sea anemone blue
    sway my beating heart

  8. Tad Wojnicki
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    reek of seeweed
    in the creeping fog —
    outdoor art show

  9. Tad Wojnicki
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    grabbing the easel
    splashing paint, terrified
    who am I?

  10. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    he talks in golds and yellows
    to any fool who’ll
    lend an ear

    From the renku “The Summer Grass”

  11. Tad Wojnicki
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    squeezing tubes
    burgundy, strawberry, apple green
    all fired up

  12. Paula Carlson
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    green snakes slither up
    biting as bluebirds lift off
    mouths open, screaming

  13. Ana
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Blue of iris
    dreams of spring
    life abounds

  14. Ann K.Schwader
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    white iris
    the walled garden

  15. Molly Callender
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Here’s one inspired by his drawing of Arles, also from the Getty collection:

    A thousand brown marks
    Suddenly chaff, smoke, rooftops
    I’m breathless, looking

  16. Grace Galton
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    swirling stars
    the whirling thoughts
    of Vincent

    pupils study
    Vincent’s Irises;
    his blue eyes

  17. Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    cresting of waves
    a dance in the wind
    my garden’s delight

  18. Kim
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    twisting stems reaching up
    high to drink in the sun’s warmth
    just like all of us

  19. Michael Nickels-Wisdom
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    within and without

  20. Kim
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    twisting stems reaching
    high to drink in the sun’s warmth
    just like all of us

  21. Susan Rogers
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    her eyes open wide
    in a field of gold
    hundreds of sunflowers

  22. Yadhira
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    They share a birthday
    She will not cut off her ear
    I stand vigilant

  23. Charise Sowells
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    a work in progress
    merely a study, you say
    but the flowers bloom

  24. sonya algosaibi
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    dancing blades
    blue blossoms
    ballet his and mine

  25. Roy
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    open your warm heart
    and let me taste your nectar
    sensuous flower

  26. ryan s
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Ouch, my friggin ear
    i mistook it for meat
    and ate it on toast

  27. jean cully
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    van gogh’s irises
    a man leans
    toward his wife

  28. Michael Dylan Welch
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    starry starry night—
    unfinished art school paintings
    in the dumpster

    Originally published in Heron’s Nest VI:2, March 2004

  29. Mary Margaret Carlisle
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Vincent’s birthday blues
    glacial ice frozen in oil
    iris held hostage

  30. shauna mcclure
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    what the spirit needs
    starry nights and blloms of white
    wash over moods of blue

  31. Gregory Longenecker
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    arm in arm
    they stroll
    Rhone reflections

  32. Merrill Ann Gonzales
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    the night sky
    again in the irises
    the swirl of life

  33. Maggie Westland
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Starry night in March
    Vincent blooms into sunflower
    Does he hear our praise?

  34. Fay Aoyagi
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    van Gough’s Birthday
    my invisible avatar
    among his irises

  35. Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Caught in fluid form
    iris blues invite
    earth aches…

    blue framed glasses
    match flaming irises
    lone white flower…

    so much wonder
    in a flowery gaze
    music of the earth…

    so much wonder
    where flowers glance
    van gogh hides…

    bid flowers still night
    after so much dancing in breeze
    I go count stars…

    :) next time
    iris will dance for me
    van gogh said so…

  36. Garry Gay
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Starry starry night
    paint brushes left out to dry
    alone with crickets

    Vase of sunflowers
    a dried twisted tube of
    summer yellow paint

  37. Susan Rogers
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    at Cafe Terrace, I fall
    inside your glass of wine
    the night pierced with stars

  38. Susan Rogers
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    sorry, a computer glitch, should be Cafe Terrace not Terarce

  39. Susan Rogers
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    purple ink
    welled deep within
    the iris becomes a poem

  40. Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    blue iris, sad blue eyes
    tearless cries and fake smiles
    stand with pride, shattered heart

  41. Marcyn Del Clements
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    the irises bloom
    in the hospital garden
    his final breath

  42. Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    iris dance
    to music unheard
    blues into blue

  43. Linda Papanicolaou
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    descending tram–
    across my lap a poster
    of the irises

  44. Stevie Strang
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    irises bloom
    in burnt fields
    I paint the stars

  45. Susan Rogers
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    twilight in the park
    the last light
    lingers in the irises

    last light lingers
    in my hands
    a purple iris

    a purple iris
    waving in air
    my arms rise and fall

    my arms rise and fall
    as the moon appears
    indigo deepens

    indigo deepens
    in the sky
    dancing with irises

    dancing with irises
    I sing with Vincent in the park
    starry night

  46. Stevie Strang
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink


    irises blooming
    in burnt fields
    as I paint the stars

  47. Mary Margaret Carlisle
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    iris by iris
    Vincent paints peace on canvas
    tinnitus quiets

  48. Frances Ruhlen McConnel
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    On Van Gogh’s “The Novel Reader.”

    yellow book, bookcase
    bent in dark concentration
    she sucks up light

  49. Posted March 31, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    starry night
    i count
    my blessings

  50. Margaret Chula
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    yet another spring
    this frenzy
    of purple iris

  51. Andrea Cecon
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    red vineyard
    vanishing in the sun
    the grape pickers

    originally published in Chrysanthemum #1, April 2007

  52. Frances Ruhlen McConnel
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    yearning toward May
    a tangle of blue iris
    her white winter face

  53. Posted March 31, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    even in asylum
    hope exists to fight
    the blues

  54. andrea gradidge
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    blue green eyes
    subject and the artist

  55. Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    on my parents’ blue
    bedroom wall, the hay stacks
    I hid in

  56. Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    that bed of purple
    iris–each day more radiant
    the summer you fell ill

  57. Jocelyn Lofton
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Foreseen hope blossoms
    from the mist of blue sadness
    Irises spring’s joy

  58. Cristian Grunca
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    unique as one is
    inside the garden of life
    the rest are many

    substance of absence
    opens the path going in
    to where time has been

  59. John Daleiden
    Posted April 5, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    these soiled boots rest
    before the next forey–
    hazey moon

    John Daleiden
    Phoenix, AZ in the Sonoran Desert

  60. Garry Eaton
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    the still reflection
    of a slender vase
    a spatter of rain

  61. Mark Stone
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Inspired by Kurosawa’s “Dreams”:

    led down a dream path
    to a harvest of rainbows
    from another’s world

    silver screen mirror
    reflects a light chaser’s dream
    of a light chaser

  62. CAT
    Posted May 5, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    blues-arching away!
    orange glory serenades white bloom….
    is Vincent’s story?

  63. drea
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    im all up in the green and blue
    in the presence greatness

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      #ProvenancePeek: Titian in Boston

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      Portrait of a Man Holding a Book, in the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is no exception. The MFA carefully details the painting’s Italian provenance on its collection page, but the path of this object even since then is complex.

      Between 1901 and 1907, Portrait of a Man Holding a Book entered the stock of no less than three galleries, purchased from the Italian family who owned it first by Agnew’s in London, then by Trotti in Paris, and then by Cottier in New York (marking its movement from the Old World to the New). A collector purchased it from Cottier, and the painting was held privately for 36 years.

      That collector was Frederick Bayley Pratt (1865–1945), son of Charles Pratt, oil magnate and founder of the Brooklyn Institute that bears his family’s name (incidentally, this writer’s alma mater!). 

      The Knoedler Gallery dealt frequently with members of the Pratt family. A quick peek into the searchable database of Knoedler’s stock books turns up nine instances in which a Pratt (Charles and Mary, Frederick’s parents, or Herbert and John, his brothers) bought works, as well as five instances where they sold works. This Titian portrait is one of those instances. Frederick Pratt sold the work to Knoedler in early April of 1943, and by the 10th, it had been snapped up by the Museum of Fine Arts.

      Knoedler shared the sale with Pinakos, an art-dealing concern owned and operated by Rudolf J. Heinemann. Purchasing works in tandem with other dealers was a widespread practice amongst powerful art galleries of the time; nearly 6,000 records in the Knoedler database had joint ownership.

      The stock books of the Knoedler Gallery have recently been transformed into a searchable database that anyone can query for free. You can find this Titian under stock number A2555.

      Portrait of a Man Holding a Book, about 1540, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Oil on canvas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Charles Potter Kling Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; stock and sales books documenting the painting’s sale by M. Knoedler & Co.


      ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archive at the Getty Research Institute.


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