Vincent van Gogh generated around 150 paintings, plus drawings and works on paper, while he lived in Paris from 1886 through 1888. Scholars tend to focus on the paintings he made after he left the capital for the Provençal town of Arles. Iconic Arlesian images such as Night Café and Sunflowers have overshadowed the Paris-period paintings and, in turn, the sociocultural underpinnings of his oeuvre. This essay focuses on one of the largest bodies of imagery Van Gogh completed in Paris: a series depicting small gardens for the working class that sprawled down a hill behind a popular tourist attraction on the Butte Montmartre. These works have been seen as depictions of rural Montmartre, but the essay locates them in the context of tourism and also connects them to Émile Zola’s 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris. In doing so, the author views Van Gogh’s seemingly traditional landscapes as departing from the pictorial compositions he studied and embracing instead a pictorial frame that conveys the subjugation of the working class amid social reform efforts related to communal gardens.

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