Van Gogh grew up with the idea that the divine manifests itself in both humankind and nature. In these tree roots, ‘those gnarled black roots with their knots’, he recognizes something of ‘life’s struggle’, namely the ‘frantically and fervently rooting itself, as it were, in the earth, and yet being half torn up by the storm’.
This drawing, executed in mixed media, marks an important moment in Van Gogh’s early career. In it, his love for nature, his outlook on life, his idiosyncratic choices and his improving, largely self-taught craftsmanship all come together.
For Van Gogh, nature is not just the expansive, uncultivated landscape. Throughout his life he would continue to be fascinated by crops, such as wheat and fruit trees, and by the small growth and flourishing of low vegetation, such as grass, ivy and the tree trunks. He makes Tree roots in a sandy ground in The Hague, but would revisit the theme in France.