Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass

Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass

"There’s a hard frost here, and out in the country there’s still snow — I have a study of a whitened landscape with the town in the background. And then two little studies of a branch of an almond tree that’s already in flower despite everything."
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Painting Date
1st of March 1888
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Vincent has just arrived in Provence and is in the midst of a wintery February and March as Arles experiences a late snowfall in 1888.  His first two weeks in the south of France are bitterly cold.  The weather hampers his ability to work outside even though he came for relief from an unseasonably cold winter in Paris where work has begun on the foundation for the Eiffel Tower in advance of the World’s Fair in 1889.


Vincent has taken a room above the Restaurant Carrel at 30 Rue Cavalerie and will move in the coming months to his envisioned artist’s studio of the south – the yellow house where Gauguin will join him for about 2 months in late 1888. Vincent paints the views along his street and stays indoors for much of the first few weeks in Arles. He waits for Spring to arrive in earnest, and stays indoors or nearby when he paints the Related Items around the same time as the Blossoming Almond Branch.


Vincent is not in good health upon his arrival in Arles due to his routine use of tobacco, absinthe and wine to excess in the cabarets and cafes of Montmartre.  He is looking to live a healthier, more austere lifestyle as he recuperates in the sunlight of Provence. He is also hoping to find the colors of Monticelli and Delacroix, two painters Vincent admires deeply.  He is close to the abbey at Montmajour and  just across the crau to Aix en Provence, the land of Zola and Cezanne and Monticelli’s beloved Marseille to the south.  Vincent has been asked to participate in the Salon des Independants coming in late Spring of 1888 and he and Theo are deciding which of his works from his Paris canvases they should submit.


Vincent ventures outside on a cold pre-spring morning through the orchards surrounding the small and ancient roman town of Arles.  He brings home a sprig of blossoming almond and puts it in a glass of water on a table before a gray brown background .  He adds a cadmium red stripe balancing the table edge above and below the centerline and the flowers of the blossom are placed in the top half of the composition.  The table is viewed head-on from slightly above with horizontal and diagonal strokes of lighter yellow, green and white comprising the table’s top.

The arrangement of the almond cutting and the glass containing it cast a light blue shadow which is repeated in one of the lower blossoms as well as on the table in diagonal strokes from lower left to upper right.  The branch is of shades of green with lateral curved strokes of a pale yellow repeated in the white blossoms. The piece has the feel of Japan to it.  And Vincent has chosen a piece of spring along the lines of the great Japanese woodblock artists in his composition of a Blossoming Almond Branch and his rendition has the feel of one of the ukiyo-e prints he and Theo collected and treasured.

The painting hangs today in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.



Writing to his brother after just arriving in Arles from Paris:

“My dear Theo,
During the journey I thought at least as much about you as about the new country I was seeing.  But I tell myself that you’ll perhaps come here often yourself later on. It seems to me almost impossible to be able to work in Paris, unless you have a refuge in which to recover and regain your peace of mind and self-composure. Without that, you’d be bound to get utterly numbed.
Now I’ll tell you that for a start, there’s been a snowfall of at least 60 centimetres all over, and it’s still snowing.  Arles doesn’t seem any bigger than Breda or Mons to me.  Before reaching Tarascon I noticed some magnificent scenery — huge yellow rocks, oddly jumbled together, with the most imposing shapes.  In the small valleys between these rocks there were rows of little round trees with olive-green or grey-green foliage, which could well be lemon trees.  But here in Arles the land seems flat.
I noticed some magnificent plots of red earth planted with vines, with mountains in the background of the most delicate lilac. And the landscape under the snow with the white peaks against a sky as bright as the snow was just like the winter landscapes the Japanese did.
Here’s my address:
Restaurant Carrel
30 rue Cavalerie,  Arles

So far I’ve taken no more than a little walk round the town, as I was more or less completely done in last night.  I’ll write to you soon — an antique dealer whose shop I went into yesterday in this very street was telling me he knew of a Monticelli.


With a good handshake to you and the pals.


Yours truly,


To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 21 February 1888




“Now it’s very good that you’ve taken in young Koning, I’m so glad you won’t be living alone in your apartment. In Paris one is always suffering, like a cab-horse, and if on top of that you have to live alone in your stable it would be too much.
About the Independents’ exhibition, do whatever you see fit.  What would you say to showing the two large landscapes of the Butte Montmartre there? (Montmartre: behind the Moulin de la Galette  and Vegetable gardens in Montmartre. The third work Theo chose was Piles of French novels and roses in a glass )
It’s all much the same to me,  I’m inclined to place slightly more hopes in this year’s work.
There’s a hard frost here, and out in the country there’s still snow — I have a study of a whitened landscape with the town in the background. And then two little studies of a branch of an almond tree that’s already in flower despite everything
…With a handshake to you and to any pals you may meet.
Yours truly,

To Theo. Arles, on or about Friday, 2 March 1888



“Unfortunately I’m hardly managing to live more cheaply than in Paris, I need to allow 5 francs a day.  For the moment I haven’t found anything like a boarding-house, but there must surely be some.

If the weather also gets milder in Paris it will do you good. What a winter!  I daren’t roll up my studies yet because they’re hardly dry, and there are some areas of impasto that won’t dry for a while.  I’ve just read Tartarin sur les Alpes, which I greatly enjoyed.”


To Theo. Arles, Friday, 9 March 1888



“The weather’s changeable, often windy and cloudy skies — but the almond trees are starting to blossom everywhere.
All in all I’m very pleased that the paintings are at the Independents.  You’ll do well to go and see Signac at his place. I was very pleased at what you wrote in today’s letter, that he made a better impression on you than the first time. In any case I’m happy to know that from today you won’t be on your own in the apartment. Be sure to say hello to Koning for me.
Is your health good? As far as mine goes, it’s better, but eating’s a real chore as I have a fever and no appetite, but it’s just a passing thing and a question of patience.
Ever yours,

To Theo. Arles, on or about Friday, 16 March 1888


Painting, Oil on Canvas – 24 x 19 cm Size 2 Figure
Arles, France: March 1, 1888
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 392, JH: 1361

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