In the scorching heat of the southern sun, a reaper toils in the field. The wheat, painted with thick dollops of yellow paint, churns all around him. For Van Gogh, the wheat symbolizes the eternal cycle of nature and the transience of life.
In the reaper, he sees ‘the image of death (…), in this sense that humanity would be the wheat being reaped’. He does, however, add that there is ‘nothing sad’ in this death. That is why he depicts the landscape ‘in broad daylight with a sun that floods everything with a light of fine gold’.
The reaper is rendered with only a few touches of blue in the wet yellow paint, whereby the outlines have become greenish. The single brushstroke of the sickle is barely visible. The painting is shown in the exhibition of the Indépendants in Paris in March 1890. Gauguin sees it there and writes to Van Gogh: ‘With things from nature you’re the only one there who thinks’.