Monday, April 05, 2010

The Real Van Gogh - Orchards and Blossom

Orchard Bordered by Cypresses (April 1888) by Vincent Van Gogh
oil on canvas (64.9cm x 81.2cm)
Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo (Netherlands)

all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell
all rights reserved / by permission of the RA

It's spring and the blossom is starting here in the UK - and I saved up my photographs of Van Gogh's paintings of blossom for now.

This is also a reminder that The Real Van Gogh - the Artist and his Letters, the current exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, ends on Sunday 18th April 2010. Do try and get to see it if you haven't already - this is a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity.
I wanted to do a Provence Orchard of tremendous gaiety

inscription on wall in the exhibition
Several of the paintings in the exhibition are of the fruit trees in Provence in blossom.

Peach Trees in Blossom (April 1889) by Vincent van Gogh
oil on canvas, (65cm x 81cm

Courtauld Gallery, London

Van Gogh was very interested in Japanese art. Blossom time meant the countryside around about Arles became for him the western equivalent of blossom time in Japan.

The catalogue suggests that one of the the mountains in the background (on the right) of Peach Trees in Blossom is reminiscent of Mount Fiji near Tokyo which featured in so many Japanese prints. The main differences between Van Gogh and the Japanese is he did not employ flat areas of colour. His brush work involved the careful placement of a loaded brush and worked impasto so that colour and brushwork combined to convey both hue and form.

The work above was completed in the sprint of 1889, just before Van Gogh had himself admitted to the asylum at St Remy. Martin Bailey suggests that it was painted from the the top of small windmill on the outskirts of Arles.

He sent a sketch of the painting in a letter to his friend and fellow artist Paul Signac and in it he described the painting
I am well now and I’m working in the hospital or its surroundings. Thus I’ve just brought back two studies of orchards.

Here’s a hasty croquis of them – the largest is a poor green countryside with little cottages, blue line of the Alpilles, white and blue sky. The foreground, enclosures with reed hedges where little peach trees are in blossom – everything there is small, the gardens, the fields, the gardens, the trees, even those mountains, as in certain Japanese landscapes, that’s why this subject attracted me.
Letter 756 to Paul Signac Wednesday 10 April 1889 from place Lamartine 2, Arles.
The descriptions and the sketches in his letters have made it possible to identify nearly all the orchards that he painted in March and April 1888. On 20th April Vincent wrote to Theo and indicated that he created a total of fourteen orchard paintings.

Orchards in Blossom by Vincent van Gogh

Three of the canvases were supposed to create a triptych - and the one at the top of this post is one of these canvases (You can see the others developed for this triptych in the artworks attached to letter 596) He commented in this latter about the one at the top
At present I’m busy with the fruit trees in blossom: pink peach trees, yellow-white pear trees.

I follow no system of brushwork at all; I hit the canvas with irregular strokes which I leave as they are, impastos, uncovered spots of canvas — corners here and there left inevitably unfinished — reworkings, roughnesses; well, I’m inclined to think that the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique.
To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Thursday, 12 April 1888.
I imagine a small smile on his lips as he wrote that last sentence!

Details of the exhibition:
Dates and times
  • Opens to the public: 23rd January 2010 Closes: Sunday 18th April 2010
  • Open 10am - 6pm daily; Fridays open until 10pm; Saturdays open until 9pm. All days last admission 30 minutes before closing time
  • £12 full price; registered disabled/ aged 60+ £10; NUS/ISIC cardholders £8; 12-18 year olds and those on income support £4
  • There are some tickets available daily at the RA (but from my experience these are likely to generate queues and/or go fast)
  • Tickets can be booked in advance by telephoning 0844 209 1919 or visiting the RA website. Due to the popularity of this exhibition, all pre-booked tickets are timed entry which means you need to arrive 10-15 minutes before your entry time to allow for the collection of tickets and cloakroom services. Advance tickets cannot be bought at the ticket office
Exhibition Catalogue: The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters

Links to posts about the exhibition:
NOTE: Vincent Van Gogh - Resources for Artists is my information site which contains links to all previous posts about Vincent Van Gogh on this blog - see Making A Mark - blog posts about Van Gogh


  1. Katharine have you read The Yellow House? and Dear Theo? together they piece together Vincent's thought processes in a thourough way. I've found previous writings fascinating, but lacking in that I wanted a sense or idea of what he was struggling with specifically and where he was turning for inspirations.

  2. Not as yet. What I've been doing is reading the letters - which are of course straight from the pen of the man himself!

  3. Dear Theo is the letters, and The Yellow House includes newspaper articles, exhibition reviews, letters to and from him, and other facts (like weather). GOod stuff!!

  4. I see this post was written awhile back, good read thanks, came across it as I'm finishing up a remake of A Provencal Orchard you feature here; I'm working soley from his letter to Emile, and this is the first time seeing it in color with a bonus commentary to boot! I would like to share it with you if your still active on this blog..


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