Orchard Surrounded by Cypresses

Orchard Surrounded by Cypresses

"A large study without a stretching frame and another on a stretching frame in which there’s a lot of stippling are unfinished, which I regret because the composition gave an overall idea of the large orchards surrounded by cypresses around here." To Theo. Arles, on Thursday, 10 May 1888
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Painting Date
11th of April 1888
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As spring comes late to Arles in 1888, Vincent finds orchards just a short walk outside the ancient town walls.  The trees in the orchards are beginning to blossom and he is filled with enthusiasm for the light of Provence and his love of Japanese art.  He sets his easel in a corner of a cypress bound orchard and creates over a dozen canvases and sketches in the final weeks of March and April in 1888.

Vincent is experimenting with color, brushstroke direction and thickness of paint application and their links to human emotion as he arrives in Arles from Paris in late winter of 1888.  He has tired of the bohemian lifestyle of his Parisian artist friends of the petit boulevard and he hopes the change in atmosphere will improve his ailing health.   On the commercial side, he is also working with his brother to create “saleable” art in exchange for Theo’s financial and marketing support in his move to Arles.  The saved letters between the brothers confirm this plan even though it does not come to fruition before either of the brother’s early deaths.  In the spring of 1888, Vincent is hopeful of creating an artist’s community in the south of France where painters may live and work in a communal atmosphere to save expenses and create canvases in exchange for austere financial support provided by the art dealer selling their work.

Note:  use the “Compare One” selection to see the sketch alongside the canvas he creates and “Compare Two” to see the two painted versions of the scene.

“Orchard Surrounded by Cypresses” was created in mid to late April of 1888 and is a second version of a similar perspective done in the weeks after his first attempt – “Orchard Bordered by Cypresses” at capturing the scene.   In comparing these two canvases, Vincent has moved forward and to the left slightly in the second canvas, bringing the yellow fence more prominently into view.  Both have a Japanese cloisonné feel to them. The small footbridge at bottom right of the fence is less prominent in this second canvas.  He has also changed the plowed ground at center from lavender to yellow and added a yellow ladder in the right foreground.  The greens of the rows of plants are darker and more closely matching those of the cypresses reaching into a softer blue sky.  The cypresses are created with upward diagonal strokes with little curve to them.  This will change over his two years in Provence as he works them more often and carefully in the coming months.

He envisions the painting hanging beside a companion piece, “Orchard with Peach Trees in Blossom”, which he is working on simultaneously.  (The preceding study of the orchard with peach trees is “Peach Trees in Blossom”). The pathway is the same in both views as Vincent turns slightly to his left and centers the blossoming peach tree in his frame and we see the length of the fence only partially shown in “Orchard Surrounded by Cypresses”.

Mentioned in the letters between the brothers, a third piece of another blossoming fruit tree was to hang with these two canvases, forming a triptych, but Vincent felt he had overworked this third canvas and ruined it and it was lost in the months and years since.


Vincent describes his method of creating the first rendition in early April to his friend and fellow artist, Emile Bernard and he includes a sketch of the scene:


“I follow no system of brushwork at all; I hit the canvas with irregular strokes which I leave as they are, impastos, uncovered spots of canvas — corners here and there left inevitably unfinished — reworkings, roughnesses; well, I’m inclined to think that the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique.

Here’s a croquis, by the way, the entrance to a Provençal orchard with its yellow reed fences, with its shelter (against the mistral), black cypresses, with its typical vegetables of various greens, yellow lettuces, onions and garlic and emerald leeks. While always working directly on the spot, I try to capture the essence in the drawing — then I fill the spaces demarcated by the outlines (expressed or not) but felt in every case, likewise with simplified tints, in the sense that everything that will be earth will share the same purplish tint, that the whole sky will have a blue tonality, that the greenery will either be blue greens or yellow greens, deliberately exaggerating the yellow or blue values in that case.

Anyway, my dear pal, no trompe l’oeil in any case. As for going to visit Aix, Marseille, Tangier, no fear; if I were to go there, though, it would be in search of cheaper lodgings, &c. Otherwise, I’m convinced that if I worked my whole life, couldn’t do as much as half of all that is characteristic of this town alone.”


To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Thursday, 12 April 1888



A month later, he writes to his brother in Paris:

“In short, I believe I’m a worker and not a soft foreign tourist here to enjoy himself, and it would be lack of energy on my part to let myself be exploited like that. So I’m starting to set up a studio that may at the same time be of use to our pals, if they come, or if there are painters here.

In the crate you’ll first of all find the paintings I did for Jet Mauve and Tersteeg.  If in the meantime you should foresee that Tersteeg would take offence at it, well, in a word, if it’s better that I don’t talk to him, then you’ll keep it and you can scrape off the dedication and we’ll exchange it with a pal. As for the repetitions of these two studies, I thought the bridge was better than Tersteeg’s but Jet Mauve’s study is simpler than the repetition. Perhaps as it ages this repetition will improve, I worked on it a lot.
Then the series of orchards — I think the white orchard of which I sent you a pen drawing and the largest of all in pink and green on absorbent canvas are the best. A large study without a stretching frame and another on a stretching frame in which there’s a lot of stippling are unfinished, which I regret because the composition gave an overall idea of the large orchards surrounded by cypresses around here. Well, I’ve already written and told you what I thought of them. And you’ll have them soon, since the crate goes off this evening.
Handshake.  Ever yours,
I think for the frames — the two yellow bridges with blue sky will do well in the dark blue they call royal blue, the white orchard in cold white, the large pink orchard in slightly warm cream.”

To Theo. Arles, on Thursday, 10 May 1888


In late March, as he is just beginning to work in the orchards south of Arles, he writes his sister:


“…You understand that the countryside of the south can’t exactly be painted with the palette of Mauve, say, who belongs in the north and is and always will be the master of grey. But today’s palette is definitely colourful — sky blue, pink, orange, vermilion, brilliant yellow, bright green, bright wine red, violet. 
But by intensifying all the colours one again achieves calm and harmony. And something happens like with the Wagner music which, performed by a large orchestra, is no less intimate for that. Only people prefer sunny and colourful effects, and nothing stops me from thinking sometimes that later on many painters will go and work in tropical countries.
You can get an idea of the change in painting if you think, say, of the colourful Japanese pictures that one sees everywhere, landscapes and figures. Theo and I have hundreds of these Japanese prints.  You see I’m writing to you only about the work today, and I must close, and don’t know whether I’ll be able to write any more to add to it. Best wishes to you and Ma, and thanks for your letters.”

To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, on or about Friday, 30 March 1888


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 65 x 81 cm size 25 Figure
Arles: April 11, 1888
Kröller-Müller Museum
Otterlo, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 513, JH: 1389

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