This is one of my favorite Van Goghs, everything in this world vibrates. The sky and wheat goad the birds into joining the kinetic intensity. I do not see this as a troubled picture necessarily although I think it was the last he painted before he died.
From top: Raven, Crow, Robin, Jay from Studer's Ornithology 1881; Common American Crow, JJ Audubon, early 1840s; Hill and Ploughed Field near Dresden, Caspar David Friedrich, 1824-25; Magpie and Snow near Honfleur, Claude Monet, 1868; Wheat field under theatening skies, Van Gogh, 1890; The Raven, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1884
photo by Edward Rhys
photo of rooks by Messent
Ravens, rooks, jackdaws, crows, magpies, choughs, jays, Corvids all, and my favorite type of bird— although in Park Slope Brooklyn I mainly see just the crows (corvus corax). Historically crows represented longevity, and marital fidelity, they were augurs of the future, or straight out harbingers of death. Whether known as a witch's familiar, chthonic messengers or petty thieves they are intelligent, wiley, playful. Like starlings, another favorite, I feel like I see the dinosaur in them.
I just read-- well browsed through-- a slim book of history, myth and lore about crows. Its part of an unusual Animals Series by British publisher Reaktion Books that includes such winning editions as Fly, Oyster and Rat. If Crow (by the magnificently named Boria Sax) is any indication of the series' quality, the rest should be wonderfully diverting. Thoroughly researched, far-reaching and densely referenced, the book remained eminently readable without slipping into slangy informality. Even better, there is no hint of catering to children, cute-mongers, or to the New Agey/Wiccan Bohemian Complex which it would undoubtedly be forced to do if it were an American publication. (Thank god for the British or I'd complain about everything.)