The 12th-century church tower in Nuenen has fallen into such disrepair that it has to be demolished in June 1885. In the seventeen months prior to that, Van Gogh documents the tower in paintings, drawings and watercolours; 35 works in total. This work is one of the first painted versions. The demolition has yet to begin, the spire is still in place.
Van Gogh paints the tower under a heavily clouded sky. For the sky he harks back to traditional landscape painting, particularly to the work of Jacob van Ruisdael, John Constable and Charles Daubigny. Less prominent but a poignant presence nonetheless is the walled cemetery, where the dark wooden crosses protrude above the wall.
For Van Gogh, the tower and cemetery are more than a picturesque motif: ‘I wanted to say how this ruin shows that for centuries the peasants have been laid to rest there in the very fields that they grubbed up in life (…) how, though, the life and death of the peasants is and will always be the same, springing up and withering regularly like the grass and the flowers that grow there in that churchyard’.