Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 12 April 1888, Letter 3, page 3
Orchard surrounded by cypresses
Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007
The first paragraph of this letter addresses a central issue of debate between van Gogh, Bernard, and Gauguin. Bernard and Gauguin favored working from the imagination, producing what they called abstractions, while van Gogh felt a pressing need to work directly from nature, which presented its own obstacles. Van Gogh mused about painting outdoors after sundown, "A starry sky, for example, well—it's a thing that I should like to try to do. . . . But how to arrive at that unless I decide to work at home and from the imagination?" Seven months later van Gogh depicted his first evening sky, and the following year he produced his nocturnal masterpiece, Starry Night, now in the Museum of Modern Art.
In order to communicate essential information about his use of color, van Gogh described at length the pigments he used and their intended effect. Here he wrote of his recent paintings of fruit trees in blossom, proud of his unconventional brushwork—the impasto for which he is famed—and idiosyncratic use of color. Satisfied with his departure from convention, van Gogh assumed that "the result is sufficiently worrying and annoying not to please people with preconceived ideas about technique." He then quarter turned the sheet and quickly drafted a sketch after his first version of a painting of a Provençal orchard.