View of Arles with Irises in the Foreground

View of Arles with Irises in the Foreground

"The town is surrounded by vast meadows decked with innumerable buttercups — a yellow sea.... They cut the grass while I was painting, so it’s only a study ... But what a subject — eh — that sea of yellow flowers with a line of purple irises, and in the background the neat little town of pretty women."
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Painting Date
11th of May 1888
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In this view from the south of Arles, Vincent captures the first blooms of irises in a field just outside of town in the 1880s.  Brilliant green and blue green stems yield white and lavender flowers taking a diagonal lower third of his canvas.  He uses the same greens in the branches and foliage of a line of willows with gray blue trunks similar to a hazy blue sky with grays and white in thicker strokes filling the top third of the composition.  A meadow of buttercups in yellows is created with brushstrokes in dots and dashes with the whole scene crowned by the towers of Saint Trophime and the Homme de Bronze and the red tiled roofs of Arles hidden by fig trees in the background.

Vincent has already drawn in reed pen and ink a similar perspective and based upon the scarcity of foliage in the drawing, scholars conclude sketch was probably done some weeks earlier (but we can’t know exactly as it is never mentioned in correspondence).  By using the Compare button, you can see how Vincent changes the painting slightly from his drawing.

The snows and frost have finally let go their late grip on Arles and the countryside around Vincent is in the bloom of spring in Provence.  He walks the roads leading out of town and picks up his paints and easel after sketching and drawing for the previous month and not painting at all.  He is excited to be in the south of France, close to nearby Aix en Provence, home to Cezanne and Emile Zola, both titans of bold new art in Vincent’s eyes.  He is animated on his countryside walks through the fields of the nearby Crau and by his recent reading of Daudet’s “Tartarin From Tarascon”, mentioning it to Theo in several letters from Arles.

Vincent has just rented “The Yellow House” on Place Lamartine when he paints this view of the old Roman City from beyond its ancient walls.  He has moved from Paris and the bohemian haunts of Montmartre, and plans to create a studio in the south of France and attract artists to live communally and exchange some of the canvases they create for room and board.  The plan takes a step forward when Gauguin agrees to move to Arles in October of 1888 and work and live with Vincent in the yellow house.  Before the end of December, Vincent and Gauguin will quarrel and Gauguin will leave Arles and never see Vincent again.

Now hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, this oil on canvas work of a View of Arles is larger, 43 x 55 cm, and is mentioned in letters to both Theo and Vincent’s painting comrade Emile Bernard in early May of 1888.  Vincent will come back to irises as a subject when he gets to St. Remy about a year or so in the future and will create a series of studies recognized to be special by Theo.

The related item that is a canvas is from a similar perspective outside the town walls of Arles, but a year later, in April of 1889.  This is after Vincent has experienced several debilitating episodes and paints one of his last views of the town before leaving entering the asylum at Saint Remy.  The other related items include the drawing and letter sketch of the scene Vincent created some weeks before the canvas.

The view of Arles that Vincent saw is difficult to re-create today as the outskirts of the ancient city have grown and trees obscure most of the view outside of town. You can see a similar alignment of the Saint Trophime tower in the background of the Street View, roughly on line with where Vincent’s perspective was in the Spring of 1888.




Vincent writes his brother:


“…A meadow full of very yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants with green leaves, with purple flowers, the town in the background, some grey willow trees — a strip of blue sky.

If they don’t mow the meadow I’d like to do this study again, because the subject matter was really beautiful and I had trouble finding the composition. A little town surrounded by countryside entirely covered in yellow and purple flowers. That would really be a Japanese dream, you know.


Having asked the price for sending the consignment that went off by goods train, it will be 7 francs at the station in Paris. As I don’t have very much left I didn’t put postage on it here — but if they asked more you’d have to complain. The crate is marked UV and W1042.


We’ve had the mistral again yesterday and today. I hope my consignment arrives before Tersteeg comes to Paris.


Handshake, write to me soon.”


Ever yours,




Vincent To Theo, Arles, Saturday, 12 May 1888.


To friend and artist Emile Bernard:


“Then a view of Arles — of the town you see only a few red roofs and a tower, the rest’s hidden by the foliage of fig-trees, etc.

All that far off in the background and a narrow strip of blue sky above. The town is surrounded by vast meadows decked with innumerable buttercups — a yellow sea. These meadows are intersected in the foreground by a ditch full of purple irises.


They cut the grass while I was painting, so it’s only a study and not a finished painting, which I intended to make of it. But what a subject — eh — that sea of yellow flowers with a line of purple irises, and in the background the neat little town of pretty women. 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.




P.S. The croquis of the woman in the last letter but one is really pretty.



My address:Place Lamartine 2Arles.


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


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



Painting, Oil on Canvas – 43 x 55 cm
Arles: May 11, 1888
Van Gogh Museum
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
F: 409, JH: 1416

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