After living in the bustling Paris for two years, Van Gogh longs for a rural setting and believes he will find it in the south of France. One can only speculate about the meaning of the three motifs in the enigmatic Still life with plaster statuette, but it is possible that the painting is a farewell salute to the city and to Theo.
Statuette and rose
Van Gogh had already drawn and painted the plaster statuette of a Venus torso several times in his painting classes with the historical painter Ferdinand Cormon in 1886. It may refer to the beginning of his stay in Paris. The rose (with its thorns) could be interpreted as Van Gogh’s wish for a happy love life for Theo, who had proposed to Jo Bonger earlier in 1887.
The books depicted are Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s Germinie Lacerteux, about the tragic double life of a housemaid, and Guy de Maupassant’s Bel-Ami, about an opportunist who manages to rise to power using his charms. Van Gogh mentions these novels repeatedly in his letters, calling them an example of ‘life as it is’ and a ‘masterpiece’ respectively.