A Lane near Arles

A Lane near Arles

"I'm quite curious to know what you’ve done lately; I’m still doing landscapes, croquis enclosed. I’d very much like to see Africa too, but I hardly make any firm plans for the future, it will depend on circumstances. What I’d like to know is the effect of a more intense blue in the sky."
Painting Date
15th of May 1888
Detailed Image Links


It is May of 1888 in the south of France and Vincent is in great spirits as he heads out of town in the morning and digs his easel into the ground against the fierce Spring wind of Provence, the mistral.  He is living above the Restaurant Carrel but has signed a lease for his artists’ studio, the famed Yellow House in which he and Gauguin will live.  When he paints the Lane near Arles, he is not living in the house yet but he is preparing it to be lived in by an anticipated cadre of artists creating canvases in exchange for room and board.


On a windy Spring day, Vincent leaves town to the East and stops at a view along the road to Tarascon and paints the landscape in front of him.  He is filled with romantic visions of his Japan of the south and chooses bright colors stroked thickly on the canvas in flat planes juxtaposed with contrasting and complimenting hues.  He will also paint and draw slightly different views from the same location during this second week of May in 1888. His dreams of laying the foundation for a communal artists’ studio of the south are coming true and he is seeing the plains and flowering orchards outside the ancient Roman city through a Japanese artist’s lens, an optimistic and passionate one.


Vincent picks the first of a line of trees along the road and paints a farmer’s house from a roadside drainage ditch.  The yellow of the road and the ditch intersect at below middle left of the canvas and recede into the distance, periodically crossed by light blue lateral strokes of shade from unseen trees on the left side of the lane.  The blue is echoed in the trunks of the trees visible at right and in the lower sky at right.  The farmhouse in brilliant yellow is also echoed at middle left by another house in the distance which Vincent will paint in another landscape canvas from this rough location.


Vincent’s Provencal sky is in shades of blue, darkening and becoming more swirled in stroke into a deep cerulean at the top of the canvas as Vincent seeks to capture the wind on his canvas.  The deep greens of the tree with orange yellow blossoms echo the foreground in a brilliant celebration of bright colors and contrasts.  The green shutters shine against the high yellow of the farmhouse with its chimney echoing the blossoming trees and road in a cheerful and energetic view of a Japanese Spring in Provence.


The related items are sketches and drawings of the scene included in letters to Emile Bernard and Vincent’s brother Theo.  Also included is the second canvas, Farmhouse in a Wheatfield, created that week in May from the same road to Tarascon.


The modern day Street View shows a setting similar to what Vincent saw along the same road over 130 years ago, much unchanged.  The Compare view is of a reed pen and ink drawing of the same scene.



Vincent writes Theo and Emile Bernard about the canvas in late spring and early summer from Arles:


“I have two new studies, a bridge and the verge of a wide road.   Many of the subjects here are just — in character — the same as in Holland — the difference is in the colour. There’s sulphur everywhere where the sun beats down.
You know that we saw a magnificent rose garden by Renoir.  I imagined I would find similar subjects here, and that was indeed the case when the orchards were in blossom. Now the appearance of things has changed and nature has become much harsher. But what greenness and what a blue! I must say that the few landscapes by Cézanne that I know render it very, very well, and I regret not having seen more of them. The other day I saw a subject just like Monticelli’s beautiful landscape with the poplars that we saw at Reid’s.  To find more of Renoir’s gardens you’d probably have to go towards Nice. I’ve seen very few roses here, although there are some, among others the big red roses they call Roses de Provence.  
To find plenty of subjects is perhaps already something in itself. Provided the paintings are worth what they cost. If the Impressionists go up in value that may become the case. And after a few years’ work we could recoup the past to some extent.  And after a year I’ll have a quiet home of my own.
I’m curious about what you’ll say about my consignment, I think it takes 10 days to go from here to Paris by goods train.  If the consignment includes some that are too poor, don’t show them. The reason I sent you the whole lot is that it will give you an idea of the things I’ve seen.  I need to go and look for a new subject, so thanking you very warmly for writing to me so soon, handshake to you and to Koning.


Ever yours,

To Theo. Arles, on or about Monday, 14 May 1888



“Then two studies of roadsides — afterwards — done out in the mistral.  If you weren’t expecting my reply right away I’d make croquis. Courage, good luck, handshake. I’m worn out this evening.
I’ll write to you again one of these days, more at my ease.”



To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 22 May 1888


My dear old Bernard,
More and more it seems to me that the paintings that ought to be made, the paintings that are necessary, indispensable for painting today to be fully itself and to rise to a level equivalent to the serene peaks achieved by the Greek sculptors, the German musicians, the French writers of novels, exceed the power of an isolated individual, and will therefore probably be created by groups of men combining to carry out a shared idea.
One has a superb orchestration of colours and lacks ideas.  The other overflows with new, harrowing or charming conceptions, but is unable to express them in a way that’s sufficiently sonorous, given the timidity of a limited palette.  Very good reason to regret the lack of an esprit de corps among artists, who criticize each other, persecute each other, while fortunately not succeeding in cancelling each other out.
You’ll say that this whole argument is a banality. So be it — but the thing itself — the existence of a Renaissance — that fact is certainly not a banality.  1v:2
A technical question. Do give me your opinion in next letter.
I’m going to put the black and the white boldly on my palette just the way the colourman sells them to us, and use them as they are.  When — and note that I’m talking about the simplification of colour in the Japanese manner — when I see in a green park with pink paths a gentleman who’s dressed in black, and a justice of the peace by profession (the Arab Jew in Daudet’s Tartarin calls this honourable official shustish of the beace), who’s reading L’Intransigeant.  Above him and the park a sky of a simple cobalt.
Then why not paint the said shustish of the beace with simple bone black and L’Intransigeant with simple, very harsh white?  Because the Japanese disregards reflection, placing his solid tints one beside the other — characteristic lines naively marking off movements or shapes.  In another category of ideas, when you compose a colour motif expressing, for example, a yellow evening sky.   The harsh, hard white of a white wall against the sky can be expressed, at a pinch and in a strange way, by harsh white and by that same white softened by a neutral tone. Because the sky itself colours it with a delicate lilac hue.


Again, in this very naive landscape, which is meant to show us a hut, whitewashed overall (the roof, too), situated in an orange field, of course, because the sky in the south and the blue Mediterranean produce an orange that is all the more intense the higher in tint the range of blues — The black note of the door, of the window panes, of the little cross on the rooftop, creates a simultaneous contrast of white and black just as pleasing to the eye as that of the blue with the orange.
To take a more entertaining subject, let’s imagine a woman dressed in a black and white checked dress, in the same primitive landscape of a blue sky and an orange earth — that would be quite amusing to see, I imagine. In fact, in Arles they often do wear white and black checks.
In short, black and white are colours too, or rather, in many cases may be considered colours, since their simultaneous contrast is as sharp as that of green and red, for example.  The Japanese use it too, by the way — they express a young girl’s matt and pale complexion, and its sharp contrast with her black hair wonderfully well with white paper and 4 strokes of the pen. Not to mention their black thorn-bushes, studded with a thousand white flowers…
…I’m quite curious to know what you’ve done lately; I’m still doing landscapes, croquis enclosed. I’d very much like to see Africa too, but I hardly make any firm plans for the future, it will depend on circumstances. What I’d like to know is the effect of a more intense blue in the sky. Fromentin and Gérôme see the earth in the south as colourless, and a whole lot of people saw it that way. My God, yes, if you take dry sand in your hand and if you look at it closely. Water, too, air, too, considered this way, are colourless. No blue without yellow and without orange, and if you do blue, then do yellow and orange as well, surely. Ah well, you’ll tell me that I write you nothing but banalities. Handshake in thought.


Ever yours,

To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Thursday, 7 June 1888



My dear Theo,
“Yesterday I spent the evening with that second lieutenant, and he plans to leave here on Friday, then he’ll stay one night in Clermont, and from Clermont he’ll send you a telegram to tell you by which train he’ll be arriving. Sunday morning, in all probability.
The roll that he’ll bring you contains 36 studies; among them there are many with which I’m desperately dissatisfied, and which I’m sending you anyway because it will still give you a vague idea of some really fine subjects in the countryside…

…Now I have a horror of success; I’m afraid of the morning after following a success by the Impressionists; even the present difficult days will later seem like ‘the good times’ to us.


Well, Gauguin and I must look ahead, we must work at getting a roof over our heads, beds; the essentials, in short, to endure the siege by failure that will last the whole of our life.   And we must settle down in the least expensive place. Then we’ll have the peace of mind needed to produce a large amount, even if we sell little or nothing.
But if expenses exceeded income, we’d be wrong to hope too much that everything would work out through the sale of our paintings. On the contrary, we’d be obliged to part with them at any price at the wrong time.  I conclude. Living more or less like monks or hermits, with work as our ruling passion, giving up well-being. Nature, thefine weather down here, that’s the advantage of the south.
But I believe that Gauguin will never give up the battle of Paris; he has that too much at heart, and believes in a lasting success more than I do. That won’t do me any harm; on the contrary, perhaps I despair too much. So let’s leave him this illusion, but let’s be aware that what he’ll always need is lodgings, and his daily bread, and paint. That’s where the chink in his armour is, and it’s because he’s getting into debt now that he’ll be done for beforehand. By coming to his aid, the two of us make his victory in Paris possible, in fact.
If I had the same ambitions as he has, we probably wouldn’t get on well together. But I don’t care about my success nor about my happiness, I care about the continuation of the energetic undertakings of the Impressionists, I care about this question of a refuge and of daily bread for them. And I feel it a crime that I have that, while two can live on the same amount.
If you’re a painter, you’re taken either for a madman or for a rich man. A cup of milk costs you one franc, a slice of bread and butter two, and paintings don’t sell. That’s why we have to join together as the old monks did, the Brethren of the Common Life of our Dutch heathlands.
I realize already that Gauguin hopes for success — he couldn’t do without Paris, he doesn’t foresee the infinity of poverty. You understand how far in these circumstances it’s absolutely one and the same to me to stay here or to leave. We have to allow him to fight his battle. He’ll win it, what’s more. Too far from Paris, he would think himself idle. But for ourselves let’s keep a total indifference regarding success or failure.
I’d begun to sign my canvases, but I soon stopped; it seemed too silly to me. On a seascape there’s a very outrageous red signature, because I wanted a red note in the green.  You’ll see them soon, anyway. Weekend will be a bit tough, so I hope to have your letter a day early rather than a day late.
Ever yours,

To Theo. Arles, on or about Monday, 13 August 1888


Painting, Oil on Canvas
Arles: May 14, 1888
Pommersches Landesmuseum
Greifswald, Germany, Europe
F: 567, JH: 1419

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