From The Minneapolis Institute of Art:
This is one of fifteen canvases of olive trees that van Gogh executed between June and December of 1889. Earlier that year he had interned himself in the asylum of St-Paul, in the town of St-Rémy in southern France, where he would create his most profound works. The vibrant oranges and yellows suggest that the picture dates to the autumn months. Van Gogh left St-Rémy in May 1890, moving to Auvers, near Paris, where he continued to paint until his death by suicide in July.
Frédéric Salles to Vincent van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 5 May 1889.
Having to go away tomorrow and being busy on Tuesdays, I place myself at your disposal to accompany you to St-Rémy on Wednesday. We would leave by the 8.51 train, if that suits you. Having already seen Mr Peyron, it is appropriate that I should accompany you myself.
Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh. Paris, Wednesday, 8 May 1889.
My dear Vincent,
A few words in haste to thank you for your last letter and to tell you that I don’t consider your going to St-Rémy as a retreat, as you say, but simply as a momentary rest so as to come back soon with new strength.
I remember seeing something that struck me greatly a long time ago. In rue des Petits-Carreaux I saw a very heavy dray which had to climb that street. The driver struck his four horses harder and harder, but right in the middle the worn-out horses refused to go a step further. So he made them turn round and, when they were back at the bottom of the street, almost without resting them, he turned round again and arrived at the top of the street without difficulty. I’d very much like you to tell me how you’re treated in the establishment and what the food is like etc. Mr Salles said many good things about what he had seen. He has been perfect, he wrote me a long letter to give me an account of his visit. As I only know from your telegram that you have gone, I don’t know if he accompanied you as he proposed to do. In the Salon there’s a very fine painting by Raffaëlli, two absinthe drinkers. I find him strongest when he paints these people who have come down in the world, although the portrait of two young girls in white may perhaps be the best portrait in the Salon. Zorn has female bathers at the seaside, somewhat in the genre of In Arcady by Harrison, which you remember perhaps. There’s a Birth of Christ by Uhde, triptych, in which there’s a pretty sentiment. There’s very little of interest in all of this penny bazaar. I’m entirely of your opinion that one mustn’t believe solely in Impressionism, but still there must be that individual aspect which is lacking in almost everything there is in the Salon.
More soon and look after yourself. Good handshake.