How a Tree in Fall Saved a Mad Man
Most of us know the connection between spending too much time indoors and depression. One of the simplest methods of lifting a low mood is to get out and about in the sunshine, amongst gardens and trees.
A tree became a talisman for one of the art world’s most prominent sufferers of the Black Dog: Vincent Van Gogh. And that tree was the Mulberry.
The Marvelous and Extraordinary Powers of the Mulberry Tree
Vincent Van Gogh was a voluntary patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy in France when he painted one of his most famous works, The Mulberry Tree. The original painting is housed at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Like many of his other works it is striking for its broad brush strokes, and vibrant use of blues and yellows. Van Gogh wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina, about Mulberries:
“As regards mulberry trees, there are a lot here. I painted one not long ago when its bushy foliage was a magnificent yellow against a very blue sky and a white, stony, sunlit field behind.”
Van Gogh had an aesthetic connection to the tree he painted, which was situated in the garden of the asylum. He also had the seasons on his side, this being autumn, when he composed his work. The fiery golds and oranges in the painting are testament to this, and the tree entering a period of dormancy after a summer of producing plentiful fruit.
Van Gogh cited The Mulberry Tree as one of his very favorite works and we can see why. It appears to be bursting out of the hard, dry ground beneath it. This is one of the strengths of the mulberry tree; it’s ability to flourish even in relatively poor soil.
While the tree in itself did not ultimately save Van Gogh, its presence was able to give him significant respite from his mental illness. What we are left with is a reminder of the healing powers of trees, merely by their proximity and our ability to appreciate them. The Mulberry has many qualities that make it perfect for sustainable tree-farming including its ability to yield fruit quickly and abundantly. But it also has the power to lift us from the psychological trails of the everyday. And, like us, the mulberry changes every day.
We have Vincent Van Gogh to thank for capturing this magnificent tree on one particular day in Fall 1889.
Emily Duncan writes for www.forestfarms.net, a website focused on promoting sustainable polycultures. She is interested in the psychological effects of trees.