From the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia:
This painting was produced at Arles, in Provence, to which van Gogh moved in February 1888, embarking upon 15 months of frenetic painting - he produced over 200 canvases, despite or perhaps because of his depression and nervous crises. This painting recalls his native Holland and the garden of his parents' house at Etten. The artist's impressions of the bright sun and resonant colours of the south were combined with nostalgia for home. Working in Arles alongside Gauguin, he came under the strong influence of the latter's style, which can be seen in the flattened space and the broad areas of colour outlined with thick contours. But van Gogh's powerful romantic temperament demanded expression in a more dramatic style that was to be found in Gauguin's work, and he used intense colouring and rough surface texture to create an individual artistic language which expressed both the energy and drama of life.
To Arnold Koning. Arles, Tuesday, 29 or Wednesday, 30 May 1888.
My dear friend Koning,
Learning from Theo that you’re going back to Holland, I wanted to drop you a line to say farewell.
You must have seen the Impressionists at Durand-Ruel. You’ll have a great deal to tell the fellows in Holland about what you saw in Paris.
I’m very glad that you’re in good health, as Theo wrote to me. We can hardly do without it for the work.
Tomorrow I’m going to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer just to see a blue sea and a blue sky. And just to get an idea of the figures. Because I think that I’ll suddenly make a furious attack on the figure, around which I’m currently circling as if I didn’t care about it, but all the same that’s actually exactly my goal.
I’m beginning to get quite tanned. The people here are tanned by the sun, yellow and orange in colour, and sometimes red ochre.
It surprised me somewhat not to have heard whether our exchange went ahead, I hope so.
I’ve just made a drawing even larger than the first two. Of a group of pines on a rock, seen from a hill. Behind that foreground a vista of meadows, a road with poplars and, right in the distance, the town.
The trees very dark against the sunlit meadow.
Perhaps you’ll get a chance to see this drawing. I did it with very thick reed pens on thin Whatman, and used a quill pen for the finer lines in the distance.
I can recommend that to you, because the lines with a quill pen are more in the nature of those with a reed.
I’m glad you’ve seen my first consignment from here, I hope there’ll be a few seascapes in the next, and then — — — — — the figure.
That’s what I’m chiefly after, only until now walking and working outdoors seemed to me better for my health, and I didn’t want to start a figure until I felt a little stronger. Well, old chap, I’ll often think about our being together in Paris, and I’m sure we’ll hear from you when you’re back in Holland.
It’s very good that you’re returning hale and hearty. If you should come back next year, come and have a look around here too. I wish you could see the colour here.
I’m very curious about the region I’ll see tomorrow, and about the sea.
At present there are bullfights almost every Sunday. Last Sunday a bull jumped over the barrier and he jumped up against the terraces where the spectators were sitting, but the arenas here are so high that it can do no harm. Meanwhile, in a village near here a bull jumped out of the enclosure, made its way through the spectators and injured several of them, then ran through the village. At the end of the village, which is built on a rock, there’s an enormously high, steep cliff. In its rage the bull just kept running and — plunged to its death below.
A hearty handshake in thought.