My dear old Bernard,
Thanks for your kind letter and the croquis of your decoration included with it, which I find really amusing.1 I sometimes regret that I can’t decide to work more at home and from the imagination. Certainly — imagination is a capacity that must be developed, and only that enables us to create a more exalting and consoling nature than what just a glance at reality (which we perceive changing, passing quickly like lightning) allows us to perceive.
A starry sky, for example, well — it’s a thing that I’d like to try to do, just as in the daytime I’ll try to paint a green meadow studded with dandelions.
But how to arrive at that unless I decide to work at home and from the imagination? This, then, to criticize myself and to praise you.
At present I’m busy with the fruit trees in blossom: pink peach trees, yellow-white pear trees.2  1v:2
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.
Here’s a croquis, by the way, the entrance to a Provençal orchard with its yellow reed fences, with its shelter (against the mistral), black cypresses, with its typical vegetables of various greens, yellow lettuces, onions and garlic and emerald leeks.3
While always working directly on the spot, I try to capture the essence in the drawing — then I fill the spaces demarcated by the outlines (expressed or not) but felt in every case, likewise with simplified tints, in the sense that everything  1v:3

that will be earth will share the same purplish tint, that the whole sky will have a blue tonality, that the greenery will either be blue greens or yellow greens, deliberately exaggerating the yellow or blue values in that case.4 Anyway, my dear pal, no trompe l’oeil in any case. As for going to visit Aix, Marseille, Tangier, no fear; if I were to go there, though, it would be in search of cheaper lodgings, &c. Otherwise, I’m convinced that if I worked my whole life, couldn’t do as much as half of all that is characteristic of this town alone.
By the way, have seen bullfights in the arenas, or rather, simulated fights, seeing that the bulls were numerous but nobody was fighting them. But the crowd was magnificent, great multicoloured crowds. One on top of the other on 2, 3 tiers, with the effect of sun and shade and the shadow cast by the immense circle. Wish you bon voyage5 — handshake in thought, your friend



Br. 1990: 597 | CL: B3
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Emile Bernard
Date: Arles, on or about Thursday, 12 April 1888

1. No such sketches are known. They would have been for the decoration of the wooden studio that had been built for Bernard in his parents’ garden in Asnières. There may be a connection with the paintings of ‘flowers ... trees ... fields’ mentioned by Van Gogh in letter 696. With thanks to Fred Leeman.
2. Van Gogh was working on two paintings of a peach and pear orchard: Orchard bordered by cypresses (F 513 / JH 1389 [2587]) and Orchard with peach trees in blossom (F 551 / JH 1396 [2591]). See letter 597.
[2587] [2591]
3. The altered ductus at this point on the page indicates that Van Gogh first made the sketch, Orchard bordered by cypresses (F - / JH 1390), on the facing page before returning to the letter. He made two paintings of the subject: Orchard bordered by cypresses (F 554 / JH 1388 [2586]) and Orchard surrounded by cypresses (F 513 / JH 1389 [2587]), the first, smaller work probably preceding the second. Judging by the composition and the colour notations on the sketch, the latter was probably made after the first painting.
[2586] [2587]
4. Van Gogh is suggesting that his style is in line with the Cloisonnism of Bernard and Anquetin. The object of this tactical remark was to stress that they were all following the same path, whereas in fact he worked differently in several important respects; out of doors, and employing a coarse, visible brushstroke. Bernard painted in the studio and avoided impasto. See for Cloisonnism: letter 575, n. 7 and letter 620, nn. 11 and 12.
a. Read: ‘si j’y vais tout de même’.
5. Bernard had spent the summers of 1886 and 1887 in Brittany, mainly in Saint-Briac, and was now preparing to go there again. He left for Saint-Briac on 23 April 1888. See Harscoët-Maire 1997, p. 162.